About the piece

“City Sounds” is based upon the photography of Vivian Maier (1926-2009), who was an American street photograph, taking more than 150,000 photographs in her lifetime, predominantly of the ‘big’ cities of the USA.

The work is based on her photography Street 4, and represents the different sounds that can be heard around the typical city.

It is openly scored, meaning that any combination of players can be used, though five is a recommended number.

This piece was written for and first performed by the Junior Royal Northern College of Music in April 2014.

Performance Notes

This piece is scored for flexible quintet, meaning a chamber ensemble of five instruments only. While the choice of instrument is free, an ensemble of two woodwind, two strings and one brass would be preferred, though this is by no means the only configuration that might be deemed appropriate.

Each performer is to play in their native clef, otherwise meaning that they should play in the clef that they are most comfortable with and use most often. For example, the Clarinet would play in Treble Clef, whereas the Viola would play in Alto Clef.

In bars where tremolandi are notated, strings are to play as written, and woodwind / brass are to flutter tongue or growl according to their preference and ability, in addition to the acoustic of the venue (flutter tonguing might be more appropriate in a smaller acoustic, as it is more prominent).

Where possible, the ensemble should be scattered around the venue. When deciding where each player should stand, the loudness and pitch of the instrument should be taken into consideration (quieter instruments should be closer to the audience).

The recommended tempo for this piece is crotchet = c.90


The Principal Player (ensemble leader) should be the first to play. The point at which each player should start is marked Start Here in the score. The entry of each player is to be staggered by approximately 5 seconds.

Each ‘bar’ that has been displaced around the score is referred to as a cell. Each line that connects cells is referred to as a connector. Where multiple lines of cells can be seen in one space, this is called a module. Each line of the module is referred to as a system.

You can move to any cell from the current one which is reachable within one step (i.e. you cannot skip a cell), and you must not travel back along connectors.

Where a connector is linked to a module, the performer should choose which system to follow, noting that they should only play one system of the module in succession (you must not travel back along connectors). You must move along from the module to the next available cell.


Each player is to play for 55 cells only. They should count for themselves how many cells they have played, and stop once they have reached this point.

Each player is to stand in the position by which they usually hold their instrument until 5 to 10 seconds following the fifth player stopping playing. The Principal Player is to signify when instruments should be lowered.

If time constrains the length that the piece can be, then this figure of 55 cells can be altered (decreased or increased) according to the needs of the event. It is recommended that this figure does not drop below 40 cells and does not increase above 100 cells, though this is a recommended range only.


If the piece is played at the recommended tempo of crotchet = c.90 and entries are staggered by c.5s, then the piece should last around 4-5 minutes.

Sample Recording

This is a live recording of the world premiere, which was held at the Royal Northern College of Music in April 2014.

Purchase Score

To purchase the score for “City Sounds”, please visit Quinlan Music, where all orders are fulfilled.

Performance Licensing

All performances of this piece must be carried out with a performance license. The licensing costs for performances of this piece from September 2017 are as follows:

  • Single performance; £40
  • Multiple performances; £40 for the first performance, followed by £20 for each additional performance.

To purchase a license, please contact the Quinlan Music Licensing Department.