Happy Sam

Things have been going rather well of late. OK, I haven’t reached Nirvana yet but things have been building nicely from the time my sabbatical ended. It’s this sense of progress and momentum that is at the heart of making me happy. A wise man once said that it’s not where you are at but the way things are heading that matters, or something like that. In those terms things are going rather well. It’s fair to say that almost everything I am involved in at present is pushing at the edge of my comfort zone but I consider this very positive indeed.

Here are a few examples of how things have progressed of late…in no particular order:

THSH Artist-in-residence

In April 2013, I was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham; a great honour. One or two things have been a bit slow to get off the ground as I am their first appointment to this kind of post, but things are really picking up momentum now.

It’s proving nicer than I had envisaged to be part of a wider team and the title itself has helped me to forge some new links. Pretty soon there will be some exciting tangible outcomes, including plans for a large-scale sound art piece and the MortonUnderwood Augmented Big Band. Keep your eyes and ears open for these.

I really believe this will be a fruitful relationship for both parties. It is pushing us both outside of our comfort zone but in ways that can only be good. For example, tomorrow I play at the At Your Own Risk event in the Town Hall Birmingham. I find this rather scary but also very exciting!

I keep regular monthly blog posts of my progress on the THSH website. Here is the latest if you are interested: thsh.co.uk/news/blogs/sam-underwood-october-2013

If Wet

After a couple of years of moaning about the music scene in my locality, which consists largely of blues/rock covers bands, I decided the only decent thing to do was to STFU or DIY. The catalyst for me was when I experienced the Wire Salon, as a panel member in early 2013. Until then I knew I wanted to do something but I wasn’t sure what. Suddenly the idea of a grand show and tell and discussion forum event popped into my head. I discussed this with my colleague David and we decided to at least try it out.

So, since April, on the last Sunday of the month we have met in Callow End village hall to hear a range of sound artists, musicians and musical instrument builders discuss their work and approach; all accompanied by home-made soup, local ale and WI cake.

Callow End Village Hall

Thus far it has been really great on many levels – not least providing us with insights and demonstrations in areas we are not experts in ourselves. Plus we have witnessed a multitude of rare and bizarre objects, instruments and performances.

We have one event left to complete our first season; an extended fundraiser on the last SATURDAY of November – to give people chance to celebrate with us – or just donate to help keep us going. If we fail to raise enough money through this and other means I am afraid If Wet might not make Season #2. We have received huge support from artists (all friends and associates), audience and volunteers thus far but we need to make this a more viable option financially next year. We couldn’t be happier with the event and the support received so far, so let’s hope we can keep it going…

More on If Wet here: ifwet.org.uk

Capsule / Library of Birmingham

As many of you will know I have a long-term relationship with the wonderful Birmingham-based promoters, Capsule. This has been central to my development as an artist and I am delighted to report that this is very much on-going. As MortonUnderwood we recently completed one of the residencies in the Library of Birmingham, curated by Capsule.

Sound Trolley

It was a rather manic time but we were left with a very positive feeling about the state of things in Birmingham and more widely. The library struck us as a really vibrant place and people responded really well to our work. Children of all ages had fun making bonkers noises before heading off to explore the wider wonders of the new library. Oh, and as ever Capsule helpers were a delight to work with.

Next up for me and Capsule is likely to be Supersonic 2014.

One Water

I write part of this on my way back from Sweden where I have been for the last week rehearsing and performing with the One Water instrument we built as a special commission for composer Jonas Asplund last year.

Jonas - composer

This is the second time I have worked with this group to deliver a concert, and more are planned in 2014. It’s always a delight working with people who excel at what they do and it’s a bonus if they are very kind and pleasant to be around too. Also, Sweden strikes me as a delightful place to work as a musician/artist; you seem valued!

One Water - trio

I look forward to further performances of One Water next year, planned for Sweden, Finland and England. Plus I aim to tie this in with my Guest Composer work at EMS, which is likely to involve a field recording tour with my colleague David Morton.

Oh and despite visiting the venue before as part of my time on the PRSF New Music Incubator I had somehow missed the existence of a huge and extensively specified pipe organ there. 9000 pipes and this from the Fanclub of the Studio Acusticum Organ project on Facebook:

The Acusticum organ, quite apart from the microtonal stop slider positioning available for almost every stop, also has a number of “Sperrventile” which can be used to limit the air supply to the various divisions of the organ. There are separate valves for the bass and treble of each division; furthermore, the Sperrventile can be set to any position from “fully open” to “completely shut” and every shade in-between.


Southbank Centre

Speaking of organs, our latest commission as MortonUnderwood is our highest profile to date and involves the newly refurbished pipe organ in the Royal Festival Hall in London. We were recently selected by the Southbank Centre to deliver a version of our Huge Feedback Organ as part of Pull Out All The Stops.

We are one of four instrument designers that will complete an instrument each to perform alongside the organ in a concert next year, with music composed by members of Bellowhead. We are creating a Huge Feedback Organ, building on our previous testing – shown below.

Huge Feedback Organ

In our latest development the pipes and speakers are bigger and so too has the sub-bass; very happy-making indeed.


Things are going great where ORE is concerned too. We have a 7″ with our friend KK NULL coming out on Endtyme very soon


AND we have some great gigs coming up. Including:

// OM & ORE – delighted to be playing with OM again, after a previous support slot last year
// Intersect – taking place across Servant Jazz Quarters, The Vortex, Cafe OTO and The OTO Project Space
// Early next year Full of Noises Festival are planning to put us on at Cafe OTO. Joy.

Details of forthcoming performances, here: oretubadoom.com/performances


Lastly, I have run a few instrument building workshops recently. These come and go but I always enjoy giving something back by passing on some skills. Hopefully people leave these workshops with a new found willingness to build stuff and even if they don’t they’ll have a nice finished instrument they built.



I have only included the most recent / current things in this summary because this is what’s making me happy right now, but exciting stuff has been happening for a while now. I hate starting such lists as I always forget something but this includes: playing at Full of Noises in Barrow, Hacking the Saconi Quartet at Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, Playing tuba as part of Together We Breathe for the opening of the new Library of Birmingham, and playing tuba in a gimp mask for the Companis Rude Food Fiesta!

So the things I am getting to do and the people I am doing it with are making me extremely happy at present. To top this all off the generosity of everyone towards me and my harebrained ideas over the last years has been astounding, and very heart-warming. I won’t start a list for this or I will get in trouble…but THANKS EVERYONE!



  1. Great to hear you’re doing so well – and most importantly HAPPY! – well deserved.
    PS I played Cafe Vixen AND your version of ‘Move It’ at a Halloween night at a trendy comedy club last night Probably owe you royalties :)


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