Graeme Miller is an artist, composer and performance-maker working internationally across a wide range of media from radio to gallery installation and is known for his sited, performative social works.
His practice emerged from UK performance of the 1980s as the co-founder of the influential theatre company Impact Theatre Co-operative. While continuing to make his own stage works that include A Girl Skipping (1990), he evolved a wide-ranging practice as an artist. He makes work that often responds to ideas about place and time, creating situational pieces that shift the attention in his audience. He also composes music and designs sound for theatre, dance, TV and film and is Associate Artist Tutor on the MA Performance Making Course at Goldsmiths University, London.
Impact Theatre Co-operative’s seminal work The Carrier Frequency marked a pivotal moment at the end of an eight-year arc of work from the collective I co-founded in 1978. Characterised by a post-punk mentality that responded to the political and physical landscape of post-industrial Leeds under Thatcher, the group created a high output of works that both embraced and fought the fragmentation of the times and drove it with sampled sound, raw lighting, assembled text and blunt physicality. Works were often darkly humorous, nearly always driven by feminism and reflected a kind of stance in the times. While works spoke of the world, they also struggled to be worlds of their own composed of “real events in real time”. I was both co-author and performer and increasingly composer along with Impact colleague Steve Shill. Music, like action, was an urgent assembly. just as the notion of being a composer of things that include music was really born at this time. The best-known work by the group was The Carrier Frequency (1984), a collaboration with author Russell Hoban. The soundtrack by myself and Steve Shill was released in 2021.
After leaving the company in 1984, I went on to make a series of my own stage works that began with Dungeness: The Desert in the Garden (ICA Commission 1987), featuring a live score for 2 pianos and a film ‘text’ by John Smith. It continued with the widely acclaimed A Girl Skipping (1990), The Desire Paths (Royal Court Theatre) and Country Dance (The Place commission 1999). It was while making The Desire Paths in 1992 that staged the poetics of walking that I began to work outside the theatre, with my sonic installation The Sound Observatory: a public space, a kind of theatre in a way, that inhaled the city and made an attentive and interactive space that required the movement of the audience among the lines of an Islamic pattern. Such ‘civic’ spaces designed for reflection and interaction drawn into an interior space from the outside world persisted in my other works; Bassline: a sound and video work capturing linear time in the city from 14 sequential perspectives as citizens follow a double bass player (Vienna, 2004 and London Barbican, 2009) and Beheld (Dilston Grove, London), a space in which 180º images of sites where migrants have fallen from aircraft wheel-bays were projected in glass. The interior/exterior language of these works returned in Counterpointer (Paris and Glasgow 2017).
My practice often involves sound, partly from an interest in it as a material but hugely because it can trigger the act of listening. Connecting this with my abiding interest in place and situation this extended into work that helped pioneer the audio walk with Listening Ground (part of Listening Ground, Lost Acres with Mary Lemley: Artangel, Salisbury Festival 1994) and LINKED (2003- present). These works used analogue radio as a medium and the act of witnessing, assuming a postion in real space and real time. This in turn led to my live broadcast work ON AIR. This is an ongoing occasional broadcast work transmitting live patterned commentary from a high perch above the landscape or cityscape, usually during the hours of dusk (London 2012, Bilbao 2016 and London Sculpture in the City 2019).
These works seem to return to both place and situation and invite the viewer into an indeterminate relationship between place learned, imagined and remembered and set them in tension with the autonomous qualities of these sites.
Alongside these works I have made videos and gallery objects that have been screened and shown, notably Lonesome Way (video 2004) and Lost Sound with John Smith (2001). My recent film Wild Car was made in 2020.
As a composer I have pursued an almost parallel path as a collaborative composer and sound designer. Work that began with Steve Shill in Impact Theatre Cooperative has continued from writing music for The Moomins TV series with Film Polski animation in 1981 until this year with composing a score for Forced Entertainment Cooperative’s latest stage work, Under Bright Light (2022) and designing sound for Cornelia Parker’s new film Flag (2022). This is both a separate strand that informs my other work, enhances my interest in the qualities of sound and the act of listening, as well as in the more formal aspects of composition that can translate across media and methods from music. It has also led me, in works like Bassline and Counterpointer, The Sound Observatory too, to be interested in the idea of composition itself as a kind of existential tactic for both the individual and the random community as we invent ourselves and each other in real time. The music in these works is often just a supporting space for observation and thought.
I was a research fellow at ResCen, Middlesex University’s Centre for research into the performing arts, along with Errolyn Wallen, Rosemary Lee, Ghislaine Boddington, Shobana Jeyasingh and Richard Layzell. ResCen made a series of public seminars and events including Nightwalking at the South Bank and publications both online and in print that include the book, Navigating the Unknown: The Creative Process in Contemporary Performing Arts and my own web-based audiovisual work revsiting the processes of A Girl Skipping (1990) in Re-Play.
For 16 years now I have taught and tutored on MA Performance Making at Goldsmiths – a course founded and led by Anna Furse and rooted in an artistically broad and culturally diverse cohort of students engaged as individuals in collective processes.