Distractfold with players from BBC Philharmonic & Drake Music


Bofan Ma that’s what they said (world première)
Incorporating texts & visuals generated using machine-learning technologies, that’s what they said looks at ways by which words escape their meanings, and sounds detach from their origins. It is framed within a state of play where story-telling interacts with plausibility, and where fabricated speech becomes a form of musical discourse.

Megan Steinberg Outlier II (world première)
Dice-rolling improvisation around an AI generated melody represents the process of AI generalisation, which can treat minority groups as outliers. This work was created with Distractfold Ensemble and RNCM PRiSM Drake Music Artists-in-Residence, Elle Chante and Luke Moore.

Sam Salem Shadows pass the morning ‘gins to break, The starry floor, the watry shore (world première)

“This work began with a simple premise – that all of contemporary life, the good, the bad, the darkness and the light, could be found along the banks of the River Thames. Over the course of 18 months I walked the 120 miles of the tidal River, from Weybridge to the Isle of Grain, returning again and again with camera and microphone, observing – waiting.

The Thames is the spine along which contemporary Britain functions, lined with heavy industry, heavier commerce, fulfilment centres, firing ranges, boat race rehearsals, dredging, luxury developments, wild horses, wilder graffiti and orchards of rotting fruit waiting for workers in a post-Brexit Kent. The River’s story is too vast, too grand, to be recounted in a single work – one must choose a position, a perspective, through which to view it. This work focusses on the relationship between the mythic, the profane, and the mundane – the River of Blake, of Turner & Milton, juxtaposed with the concrete reality of the River as an entity whose shifts in form exist on a geological, rather than human, timescale.

The language of the work is in turn dramatic and literal, the performers one moment functioning as witches scrying the surface of the River to divinatory ends, another moment taking the form of the stones and pebbles caught within the flow of its waters. This tension, between the River as it appears in uneasy dreams and the River as it asserts itself on its own terms, propels the piece. It is finally broken when the River reaches its mouth, and becomes exuberant, despite itself. It leaps, it shouts the joy and violence of rejoining the sea.

I would like to thank: Simon Webb, Kathy Jones, Stef Farr and all at the BBC Philharmonic, Distractfold Ensemble and Mark Knoop, PRiSM, the Centre for Practice & Research in Science and Music at the RNCM, and the technical and programming teams at the RNCM for facilitating this concert.” – Sam Salem


The RNCM is committed to reducing its carbon footprint. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far but know we need to do more as we work to create a more sustainable world. One way we can make a huge difference is to minimise the number of printed programmes and free sheets we produce each season.

This is why we’ve decided to move away from mass produced, single use print for most of our events, offering an online programme of up-to-date information instead. Additionally, many of our concerts now include a personal introduction by members of staff and students, which gives insight into the repertoire performed as well as an opportunity to get to know our community a little more.   

Where printed programmes are still required, such as RNCM Opera performances and end of term showcases, content is thoughtfully produced using limited resources. An online option is also available for those wishing to support our mission.

We always welcome feedback from our audience members and would like to thank everyone who has supported our mission so far.



Distractfold Ensemble

UK-based ensemble, Distractfold, are a group of performers, composers and curators all acting out of shared love, passion and interest in the music and culture of our times. Coming from different continents, backgrounds and having received a diverse education, together they create a nexus of ideas and influences which all contribute towards the ensemble’s unique voice and identity. They perform acoustic, mixed and electroacoustic music of their peers, alongside music of the more established composers with whom they have formed close collaborations and friendships.

In 2014 Distractfold became the first ever UK ensemble to be awarded the Kranichstein Prize for Interpretation at the 47th International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt. In 2016 they returned to Darmstadt presenting two programmes of music at the Centralstation and curated a CD featuring remixes and reworking based on the festival’s 70-year archives.

In 2016-17 concert season they focused on curating and producing the 2017 Cut and Splice Festival, which took place in Manchester for the first time since the festival’s inception.

Distractfold has been able to invite numerous composers to join them in Manchester for performances at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation – such as Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Hanna Hartman, Weston Olencki, Marek Poliks, Sabrina Schroeder and Lori Freedman to name a few – and have given UK and world premieres of works from composers such as Pierluigi Billone, Santiago Díez-Fischer, Michelle Lou and Andrew Greenwald. Distractfold has also hosted guest performances from artists such as the Mivos Quartet, the Noise Upstairs, Wet Ink Ensemble and Lê Quan Ninh.

Alongside their work in Manchester, Distractfold perform regularly in festivals and concert series at home and abroad. Last season saw appearances at Bludenzer Tage Zeitgemäßer Musik in Austria where we presented two concerts including the world premiere of an evening-length piece by Sam Salem commissioned by the festival; Musica In Prossimità in Pinerolo, Italy; Global Adapter in Berlin and the New Music Manchester Festival in Manchester, UK.

Passionate about developing new ideas and creative potential among young composers, Distractfold has participated in reading sessions and workshops nationally and abroad. Some of these collaborative projects include workshops at Huddersfield University, Brunel University, Royal Northern College of Music and Ithaca College. In 2016 Distractfold was invited as one of the resident ensembles for the Harvard Group for New Music where they subsequently returned in 2018. In 2017 they were an ensemble in residence at Stanford University, CA. In Feb 2021 they will be in ‘virtual’ residence live from Manchester with composition students from Columbia University, NY.

Distractfold is currently the ensemble in association at Brunel University, and ensemble in residence for an interdisciplinary course at the Architectural Association in London.

Bofan Ma

Bofan’s work explores the intersection between instrumental theatre and live musical performance. He is particularly interested in the development of accessible new music technologies, as well as their impact on making musical works that engage a multitude of contemporary social and political struggles.

He holds a PhD in composition from the Royal Northern College of Music and Manchester Metropolitan University (recently completed in November 2021).

Previously supervised by Professor Emily Howard, Dr Larry Goves, and Dr Josh Edelman, he was one of PRiSM’s doctoral researchers and a founding member of the PRiSM postgraduate study group. He is also a member of the RNCM Experimental / Exploratory Music Research Centre (EEMRC).

Bofan has been featured in many PRiSM events and collaborations since 2017. These include working alongside Professor Keeley Crockett (Manchester Metropolitan University) as part of PRiSM 8-Cubed 2018. This collaboration has led to a series of compositions that compare the ‘concert hall’ with an AI-assisted border crossing scenario (read his PRiSM Blog offset iii – what makes human human?).

The inaugural RNCM PRiSM Future Music in June 2019 saw the premiere of Dying Archon #rulingwheel$1 (2019), a joint project between Bofan and RNCM composer-producer Tywi J H Roberts, as well as saxophonist Simeon Evans. The project uses Virtual Reality technology as a creative lens to reflect on our ever-shifting relationships with the ‘mundane’ in a hyper-connected digital world:

Megan Steinberg

Megan Steinberg is an experimental composer and abstract turntablist based in London. She works with found sound, chance procedures, graphic scores, quietness and microtonality. Fascinated by space, silence and architecture’s both direct and indirect control over sound, Megan studies instruments, spaces and objects to draw on/out their unique sound qualities.

Originally a jazz guitarist, Megan studied Composition at Brunel University where she fell into experimental music. After discovering free improv using objects, violin and cello, in 2016 she began performing free improv and experimental music for single-deck, analogue turntable.

As a free improv abstract turntablist, Megan is interested in furthering the repertoire and exploring performance techniques for the instrument. In 2018 she embarked on a Finnish tour with solo turntable material, and has performed with other musicians including Elliot Galvin, Benedict Taylor and Jenn Kirby.

Megan is studying a PhD at Royal Northern College of Music, where she has been appointed the Lucy Hale Doctoral Composer in Association with Drake Music, from 2021. Her project is focused on the creation of works for Disabled musicians, new instruments and AI, placing accessibility at the beginning of the compositional process.

Her music has been performed most recently at Kings Place, Grachtenfestival in Amsterdam, Arts by the Sea Festival in Bournemouth and IKLECTIK. Her music has also been broadcast on Resonance FM and BBC Radio 3.

In 2016 Megan was awarded the F I Williams Prize for Composition for her piece The Dying Sakura Tree, performed by Distractfold.

In 2017 she took part in the BBC Proms Inspire project for International Women’s Day at Maida Vale Studios with other young, female composers and Hannah Kendall. She was Artist in Residence at the Picture Gallery, Royal Holloway in 2017, and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in collaboration with the Australian Art Orchestra in 2022.

Megan has an MMus in Advanced Musical Studies from Royal Holloway University and BMus Composition from Brunel University. She is incredibly proud to have studied with: Colin Riley, Christopher Fox, Jennifer Walshe and Mark Bowden.

Sam Salem

“I create audiovisual works for performers, electronics and video, which challenge traditional notions of concert presentation and instrumental virtuosity. All of my work is intrinsically cross-disciplinary. I work with field-recordings, generative models, audio analysis and re-synthesis, amplification and objects / “devised instruments”, extended instrumental performance techniques, embedded electronic devices for DSP and sounds synthesis, and digital animation techniques and videography.

My work therefore draws upon electronic and computer music, instrumental composition, visual art, computer science, and English literature. I have a lot of interests! Fortunately, my chosen idiom allows me to combine these freely, with the aim of synthesising and exploring new languages and forms of expression.

If I were to attempt to briefly summarise my aesthetic interests, I would say that my work is primarily concerned with ambiguity and notions of the Uncanny, i.e., the strangely familiar. I see huge potential for exploring this particular territory through the use of machine-learning and A.I. processes. It is therefore apt that my first research project as PRiSM Lecturer in Composition is to explore the use of machine-learning in audio synthesis in collaboration with PRiSM’s Research Software Engineer, Christopher Melen.

My electroacoustic works have been performed at festivals and concert series around the world. These works have also received several awards and nominations, including: the HearSay Prize (Winner, Best Sound Category, 2015), Prix Palma Ars Acustica (Nominated by Radio Television Suisse, 2015), Concours Luc Ferrari (Winner, La Muse En Circuit, 2012), Prize Phonologia (Finalist, 2013), Metamorphoses (Finalist, Musique et Recherches, 2012), Competition Destellos (Nominated by Grand Jury, 2012), Joensuu Soundscape Composition Contest (Third Prize, 2011), 11th Musica Viva Composition Competition (Winner, First Prize, 2011).

My first works for live performers, my London Triptych, are based upon the lives of William Blake (Not one can pass away, 2015), Austin Osman Spare (Untitled Valley of Fear, 2016) and Nicholas Hawksmoor (The Great Inundation, 2017), and were written for Distractfold Ensemble. Not one can pass away has received 16 performances by 5 different ensembles. Untitled Valley of Fear was premiered at Darmstadt in August 2016 and has also been performed at Café OTO and HCMF. Untitled Valley of Fear was nominated for a British Composer Award (Sound Art Category) in 2017. The Great Inundation was premiered at Cut & Splice 2017 and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

In 2017, I participated in the Earle Brown Music Foundation International Summer Academy for Young Composers, one of 8 composers selected from 206 applicants, and the only successful applicant from the UK. The resulting piece, The Lovers (for string quintet, 2 object operators, performative electronics, tape and video), was premiered by Talea Ensemble as part of the Time Spans Festival in New York in August 2017. The Lovers was noted as being “impressive” and “chamber-orchestra pandemonium with accomplished video work” by the New York Times in their review of the festival. Brilliantly, and importantly, I was also described as “young”.

My most recent large-scale project, Midlands, was commissioned by The Bludenz Days of Contemporary Music Festival and the Ernst Von Siemens Foundation in 2019 and is my first concert-length piece. The work, a septet for performers, performative electronics, tape and dual video projection was described as “outside any common form and expression of a piece of music – it is a kind of staging, a Gesamtkunstwerk of light, live music and electronically embellished sound collages”.

I am also a founding member and co-artistic director of Distractfold Ensemble. Distractfold received the Kranichstein Music Prize for Interpretation from Internationales Musikinstitute Darmstadt (IMD) in 2014, becoming the first British ensemble to receive the honour. In 2017 we curated and co- produced Cut & Splice in collaboration with SAM and BBC Radio 3, which culminated in a weekend festival in March 2017 and BBC broadcasts in April 2017.” – Sam Salem