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flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, tuba, cello

first performed by symposia, 2004, glasgow.

About the Piece


Fumbling is Just a Desperate Cry for Help was composed for Ensemble Symposia, for the somewhat odd line-up of flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, tuba & cello. The piece is one of the first compositions of mine concerned with physical motion; in this case that of fumbling: the piteous dance of the inept; the awkward mumbling, bumbling or shuffling of the self-doubter – an action known to everyone, and one which I felt was as worthy of a piece of music as the most heroic gestures, being so commonplace as it is.

The piece itself is built on a 6-bar repeating pattern in the cello, which, though regular in shape is not directly tied to the underlying pulse, and so is seemingly insecure in tempo. On top of this, a line begins in the cor anglais and tuba. The line aspires to nothing, and achieves nothing. This futile foray into fumbling ends more inconsequentially than it begins.

Fumbling is potentially the most annoying piece I've ever written. But it also happens to be one of my personal favourites, and the last minute or so still makes me laugh when I hear it.


The title came from the circa-2000 website Googlism, which allowed you to enter a word or name and it would return "[name] is"-type statements. I entered the word "fumbling" and one of the statements it returned was the beautifully fitting "Fumbling is just a desperate cry for help". The more or less full list that it returned ended up being the programme notes (below):


"Fumbling is a big question
fumbling is a concern
fumbling is complex and fumbling is inexperience
fumbling is one of life's little mysteries
fumbling is very rare

Fumbling is also commonplace
fumbling is costly
fumbling is fake  
fumbling is awkward
fumbling is distracting
fumbling is what I am talking about here

Fumbling is a bad thing
fumbling is not
fumbling is a sign of intoxication
fumbling is both funny and poignant
fumbling is endearing and small errors will be forgiven
(fumbling is not among them)

Fumbling is unacceptable
fumbling is boring and time consuming and can lose attention
fumbling is something that's correctable
fumbling is endemic
fumbling is an art
(fumbling is involved)
fumbling is all that keeps it alive
Fumbling is followed by more fumbling
fumbling is fumbling
fumbling is what this day is all about
fumbling is just a desperate cry for help."


Fumbling is Just a Desperate Cry for Help was first performed by Ensemble Symposia at Glasgow University in June 2004.

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