Tywi J H Roberts
a. k. a. Tywi Hywel
a. k. a. Tywi_J
Dr Tywi John Hywel Roberts is a composer, sonic artist, ensemble director and performer from South Wales. His musical background is primarily in electronic music and the guitar but since 2018 his composition activity has expanded into the realm of contemporary classical works - writing for groups such as Psappha, Insimul and John Derek Bishop, the UnHeard Ensemble, Festivo Winds, Nexus Duo and various others. He has operated as a musician in a number of different fields: post-rock guitarist, electroacoustic composer, sonic artist, electronica producer, theatre musician, soundtrack composer, contemporary classical composer, artistic director, and singer/songwriter.
In June 2023, Tywi was invited to Norway to work directly with Stavanger-based ensemble Insimul Sinfonietta, and with the electronic musician John Derek Bishop who specialises in live-sampling in performance. This was for a unique installation/concert at the Wonderful World science festival at the TOU arts centre, in which each composer was paired with a researcher in archaeology, philosophy, or physics and composed a series of pieces inspired by their ideas.
In 2019 he was the joint winner of the Rosamond Prize competition for a collaboration with poet Samantha Weaver, (‘Streets in the Sky’ for two marimbas, vocalist and electronics, on the subject of Park Hill Flats in Sheffield). In 2021 the two collaborated again on a piece for UNSUPERVISED – the Machine Learning for Music workgroup in Manchester which has members from both the University of Manchester NOVARS and the Royal Northern College of Music. This piece – for four sopranos and AI-generated electronics – premiered at the third Future Music festival in the RNCM and was titled Blodeuwedd.
Tywi’s work frequently incorporates innovative technologies, and he previously presented works exploring virtual reality and live coding for Future Music #1 at the RNCM. He has also presented a work for two string quartets networked together via streaming (Zygote), and works for large assemblies of laptops processing the sounds of live acoustic ensembles in real-time. He has composed a number of soundtracks for the documentary filmmakers Optical Jukebox, as well as writing pieces for commission with Connected Health Cities and the RNCM’s centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music (PRiSM).
From 2020 until 2021 he was a participant in Dr Scott McLaughlin’s Garden of Forking Paths research project, which asked questions around indeterminacy in composition and the material agency of the clarinet, with a particular focus on multiphonics. This resulted in two new works in collaboration with clarinettist Johanna Leung, and which were also part RNCM PRiSM’s Changing Music in a Changing Climate project. The two pieces were Planetary Boundaries-Human Needs (featuring the voice of Professor Julia Steinberger), and Slushball Earth – a collaboration with ocean and climate scientist Katherine Turner from the University of Liverpool, which was premiered in the Garden of Forking Paths concert in March 2021.
In May 2019 Tywi performed with contemporary guitarist Nate Chivers and opera singer Clare Hood under the name Tywi and the Invisible/Visible Musicians as one of the acts in the Sonic Waves: Music and Sound Beyond Borders event organised by MASSmcr. He has also had music released through NMC Recordings, as part of the 2022 Big Lockdown Survey.
In May 2023 Tywi was awarded his doctorate, after completing and defending his PhD thesis which was titled Digital Hybrid: Correspondence With Digital Materials, Exploring a Hybrid Composition Practice Across Multiple Domains. This practice-led research project focussed on composition for hybrid ensembles using acoustic and electronic instrumentation, and was supervised by Mauricio Pauly, Larry Goves and Rodrigo Constanzo.
Tywi’s proposal was that working with ensembles which include acoustic and electronic forces demands a hybrid skillset, with composers having knowledge of both traditional composition and digital sound manipulation techniques. In order to shed further light on this proposal Tywi composed pieces and arranged concerts which explored hybridity in other contexts – in particular between aural and visual content, between spoken word and music, between different authors, and finally between multiple languages in the same work.
The UnHeard Hybrid Orchestra was formed partly as a vehicle to have this work performed and in February 2020 Tywi led the group’s premiere performance, and later its follow-up UnHeard Hybrid Online in March 2021. This latter concert headlined the first RNCM PLAY Festival.
Tywi now acts as Artistic Director for UnHeard, which is a collective of PhD/postgraduate composers plus conductor Omer Shteinhart (UnHeard’s Musical Director), all of whom are alumni from the RNCM in Manchester. Through the UnHeard Ensemble they share their compositional, research and artistic interests with the public – whether these be questions around the use of technology, the role of audio-visual, blending of genres, use of AI, atypical instrumentation, or how the covid pandemic affected the lives and practices of musicians in general.
The UnHeard collective grew out of the RNCM's New Music Society, which Tywi was also running from 2019 to Summer 2021. This group later grew to be a private, independent organisation operating primarily in Manchester but also with projects in other cities in the North of England and in Norway. UnHeard have organised concerts in the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Music Room, St Margaret’s Church in Whalley Range, the Edge Theatre & Arts Centre in Chorlton (part of Chorlton Arts Festival), the RNCM, and the alternative arts centre TOU in Stavanger, Norway. The group has previously received funding from the Rushworth Trust, the Rundell Trust and RNCM PRiSM.
Tywi is currently a member of the playback theatre group Real and Present Theatre (RaPT), acting as their musician. In this role he improvises soundtracks for the players’ interpretations of true stories recounted by audience members from their own lives. The group has performed at Chorlton Arts Festival, Didsbury Arts Festival, as well as at professional conferences in the fields of psychology, therapy, and humanitarian aid.
During the period 2014-2018 Tywi was based in Bristol, and was heavily involved with the local music scene, most significantly playing guitar as part of the four piece post-rock band A Procession, recording with them their first album Threnodies. During this time, he also began recording arrangements of video game music for multiple acoustic guitars and publishing them online via his YouTube channel Tywi Hywel. This period was also when he released his first solo album ZigZag Idiot, which was entirely composed of electronica and pieces inspired by the world of left-field dance music. He has performed some of this material live, alongside original songs and guitar compositions of his own.
Prior to this in 2008 Tywi studied a Master’s in Sonic Art & Digital Media Production at the University of Sheffield under the tutorship of Professor Adrian Moore. Through this programme he received academic training in various aspects of digital audio manipulation, production of sound with moving image, sound diffusion, researching/writing about music and sound art, and also performed at the University’s Sound Junction series of concerts.
Since 2005, he has also spent a number of years working in the context of Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft seminars. These involve a unique and holistic approach to acoustic guitar playing neither based entirely in the rock or classical traditions, and using a specific tuning distinct from the standard E-A-D-G-B-e. In this context Tywi performed dozens of times in various locations including Los Angeles, the Netherlands, Stroud Subscription Rooms, Bristol, Barcelona and London as part of different Guitar Craft-related ensembles including the League of Crafty Guitarists, the Berlin Guitar Ensemble, the Guitar Circle of Europe and the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists.
Prior to this he performed in Europe as a guitarist in Slovenia’s DRMK noise festival, as well as performing alongside Greek musician Jesus Agnew (‘Jesus is Angry’) in Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Berlin. Tywi also performed with the Gated Community in the mid 2000s, which was a free-improv collective run by bassoonist Mick Beck who has been an established improviser and leader of the Sheffield improv scene for decades.
In 2021 Tywi was one third of the team which founded the independent publishing company Pomera Press, along with Dr Michael Grenfell of Southampton University (a scholar of linguistics who has specialised in the work of Pierre Bourdieu) and graphic designer Pablo Mandel from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tywi currently has a book in progress which is planned for release through the imprint later in 2023/early in 2024.
Via the writings of neuro psychiatrist Dr Iain McGilchrist, Tywi is also interested in exploring how theories of the divided brain may bear on questions of creativity, theory and culture. He has twice been a presenter at the regular conference Exploring the Divided Brain & Coming to our Senses, organised by Field & Field.