A Quiet Night In


A Quiet Night In encourages audiences and performers to explore the creative possibilities in quiet and silence through contemporary music. We spoke to founders Emma Welton and Tony Whitehead.

Tony Whitehead and Emma Welton performing at the Devon and Exeter Institution in 2015

Tony Whitehead and Emma Welton performing at the Devon and Exeter Institution in 2015

What do you do?

We conceived A Quiet Night In in 2014, based on our shared love of quiet listening. It provides a platform for contemporary music that wouldn’t otherwise be performed or widely known in Devon.

And what keeps you doing it?

We are motivated by our own need for this music. When we hear about a new piece, we enjoy the challenge and excitement of learning it and hearing it. We are inspired by each other’s ideas, and the response, care and enthusiasm of our fellow performers. Plus, of course, our audiences, who keep asking: ‘When and where is the next Quiet Night In’?

Who do you work with?

We usually perform in groups of between two and eight performers, who come from widely varying musical backgrounds. They share curiosity, and a desire to make and discover new things in sound.

We have invited composers to make new quiet pieces for our concerts. To date we’ve received work from Simon Belshaw, Jeph Jerman, Alice Kemp, Anna Matthews, Hugh Nankivell, Emma Welton and Tony Whitehead.

Where do you perform?

There is no concert hall in Exeter, so we use venues designed for other purposes. These have included the Devon and Exeter Institution library, St Nicholas’ Priory and the Friends Meeting House. We have also performed in Bristol at the invitation of other curators of experimental music.

 The transaction between us and venues can be inspiring in both directions. We love it when venues are interested in what we create in their space. It’s much more than just a financial hire relationship; it’s a chance for a deeper exchange between building and people. The custodians of special buildings seem to understand this.

Describe a typical Quiet Night In

Each programme is designed specifically for the space where it will be performed and the quality of listening experience it offers. We allow each venue its own moment of quiet, partly to help our audience settle into a state of attentiveness, but also because each venue has its own audible character that is worth hearing.

In terms of material, we strike a balance between some of the more challenging quiet music of Wandelweiser composers, and the calm directness of Howard Skempton. We’re also interested in music that contains a certain attitude toward discovering, revealing and permitting sounds such as Joanna Bailie’s Artificial Environments – with its recordings of everyday sounds combined with live instruments – and Alvin Lucier’s exploration of the acoustic properties of objects, rooms and materials.

Recently we’ve been particularly excited to explore the text scores of Pauline Oliveros whose Deep Listening practice exhorts us to ‘listen in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds.’

What can audiences expect?

During a concert you’ll find there is time to become engrossed in a very focused way, or to let go and be swept along in a general flow. You’ll hear unusual instruments and objects explored for their sound. It could confound your ideas of what music is. It can be surprisingly funny and playful, or intimate and tiny. It may not always be an easy listen, depending on what you’re used to! A Quiet Night In can refocus your ears.

One thing that would make your life easier?

As an unfunded project we can’t pay for rehearsal space, and finding rooms large and quiet enough for rehearsing can be difficult in Exeter.

What’s A Quiet Night In’s best moment of 2018?

The most memorable must be performing at St Nicholas’ Priory on a chilly February evening to a full house of people who brought their own blankets.

And looking forward?

We’ve recently started The Night Class, a practice group where performers can try out new ways of interpreting and listening to unusual musical scores without the pressure of an audience. It’s also a chance to consider ways of being in a space as performers. We’re excited about the potential for new works to emerge from our collaborations.

Next year we want to start bringing people from outside the region to compose and perform with us. One will be a daughter of Exeter, Juliana Hodkinson, who is now based in Berlin. Supposing all this will be a sound art event in the form of a temporary kinetic sound installation that blurs the boundary between listeners and performers. We are also talking to Dutch-born Wandelweiser composer and flautist Antoine Beuger to invite him to perform with us later in the year.

What if ….

…we had more support in realising our ideas and ambitions? We’re committed to bringing extraordinary and innovative work to Exeter, and we’d love to take A Quiet Night In to other places.

How do we find out more?


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