Twenty years ago Mark-Anthony Turnage’s seminal eighty minute piece Blood on the Floor was premiered by Ensemble Modern and has since been performed around the world almost every year. This year it will be performed in Perth for the first time in a unique chamber version at Soft Soft Loud.


The Fremantle Arts Centre’s annual Soft Soft Loud series has developed a loyal following for its intriguing cross genre programming. Turnage’s far-flung musical influences appealed to artistic director Matthew Hoy, whose programming in previous years has included beat boxer Felix Zenger, jazz composer Tuomo Prattala, rock guitarist Bryce Desser and local composers and performers.
“Turnage brings a lot of things into the pot,” says Hoy. “Blood on the Floor is incredibly virtuosic. It features a jazz quartet but at times it is very symphonic; it can be delicate but it is also sonically very overpowering. I knew it would be an amazing alchemy and we had the right people in Perth to do it. But the scope of the piece was too vast. I had to find a way to make the piece more approachable.”
Hoy approached Turnage and offered to do a few ‘nip and tucks’ and arrange the piece for 30 rather than 55 players.
“Turnage agreed when he saw the level of forensic detail I was working at and that the piece would retain its principal elements. None of the music is lost.”
Born in Britain in 1960, Turnage studied with Oliver Knussen, John Lambert and Gunther Schuller. His reputation as one of the most gifted composers of his generation was established with his first opera Greek (1988) and he went on to work with some of the world’s most prestigious establishments including as composer-in-residence with the London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Covent Garden where his controversial opera Anna Nicole was premiered in 2011. In 2015 he was awarded a CBE for services to music.
At the same time as earning the respect of the musical establishment, Turnage’s working class background, his risqué titles (such as On All Fours and Three Screaming Popes) and his absorption of jazz elements has given his music an unusually broad appeal. His orchestral and operatic music is typically urban and confrontational, with an exhilarating energy. His music is also capable of expressing deep tenderness.
Francis Bacon: Blood on the Floor
Blood on the Floor, written 1996, contains all these elements. The title comes from a painting by

Francis Bacon and the piece is inspired by the loss of Turnage’s brother to a drug overdose. Turnage wrote the piece for jazz guitarist John Scofield, drummer Peter Erskine, saxophonist Martin Robertson and Ensemble Modern. The Prologue has a dark desolate atmosphere and the following eight movements wind up the tension. Titles like Needles, Junior Addict and Elegy for Andy reference the tragic inspiration behind the piece.

The final movement Dispelling the Fear is a spiralling freefall, inspired by a painting by Australian artist Heather Betts. Betts is married to composer Brett Dean who has been closely involved with Hoy’s arrangement of Blood on the Floor.
Hoy says analysing the piece so closely has given him great appreciation for Turnage’s skill.
“His skills at orchestration are phenomenal. The score is intensely chromatic but you don’t hear that, it speaks in bursts of colour and gesture and texture.”
Blood on the Floor includes both notated and improvised sections and its intersection of jazz and classical music will mirror the festival’s headline music event featuring Wynton Marsalis and the WA Symphony Orchestra.
Hoy’s arrangement will be performed by a jazz quartet comprising Carl Mackey (saxophone), Sam Anning (bass), Ben Vanderwal (drums) and Sydney guitarist Carl Morgan plus a 26 piece instrumental ensemble.
“This piece allows me to reflect the breadth of the scene in Perth. I am constantly inspired by the musicians in Perth and also grateful to Perth audiences and how open an unbiased their appreciation of music is.”
“It will be really powerful for the audience. If you are a fan of Gil Evans, Miles Davis or Hans Werner Henze then there will be something that will grab you. The music has ethereal crystalline moments, walls of sound and moments that are hard driving rhythmically. It will be a real ride, an immense experience.”
Blood on the Floor
8pm Thursday 25th February
Fremantle Arts Centre
This article copyright The West Australian 2016.