Illusions, with David Hoyle

Programme Note

I have long been a mega fan of David Hoyle.  When I lived in London, I regularly went to see his shows at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.  He’s the canary in the mine of our times, sounding the alarm for a deeply unfair and oppressive society in white hot cabaret and performance art.  I find his rage incredibly exciting and galvanising.   

In 2015 the London Sinfonietta approached twelve composers, including me, to write a short piece for a special programme on the eve of the UK General Election that year.  The concert was called Notes to the New Government, and we were supposed to make issues-based pieces directed at the as yet unknown incoming government.  

I took this opportunity to ask David to work with me for the first time.  He agreed, and we filmed around two hours of his unique brand of stream-of-consciousness rant. From that, I edited snippets of video into a 7-minute piece, Illusions.  The message of the piece resonated with the audience, so two years later, in yet another general election year, the New Music Biennial and the London Sinfonietta asked us to extend and reorient the piece.  Amid the unchartered post-Brexit landscape of 2017, there were also celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales — an issue dear to David and me.  

We decided to highlight this in our update.  We went through the same process, filmed more material, and made a 14-minute piece that is more direct, more sexual, and more aggressive than its 2015 predecessor.  I hope you find the anger inspiring.  


“Philip Venables’s Illusions, a collaboration with performance artist David Hoyle, batters at the limits of form, emotion and sexuality in a ferocious assertion of LGBT individualism in the face of establishment nihilism and uncertainty – a brilliant, extreme work that grips like a vice and won’t let go.” — The Guardian

“Most graphically urgent is Illusions — which performance artist David Hoyle acidly exposes through alternating political rant and twisted seduction. Supported with terrific intelligence by Richard Baker’s London Sinfonietta — the muzak, especially, disturbs — this is a remarkable piece, sensationally played.” — BBC Music Magazine

Best of the bunch by far was Illusions, in which aggressively rhythmic music by Philip Venables engaged in a jerky dance with the on-screen diatribes of “anti-drag queen” David Hoyle, aimed directly at us in the hall. “Are you just thinking about how you can hang on to what you’ve got?”, leered Hoyle contemptuously. It was the one moment that put us all on the spot.” — The Telegraph

“Closing the disc is Illusions for speaker and ensemble, an unholy screed of lounge muzak and glitch on a cruise ship sailing the Styx. Performance artist David Hoyle rails against hypocrisy and venality in amusing fashion. ‘The media shits into your brain’, is one of his bons mots. Bathetic and compelling, it’s performed with a punch.” — Gramophone Magazine

“a proper little zinger” — The Spectator

« Il massacre la bourgeoisie décadente et la masculinité toxique à la tronçonneuse et termine par ce précieux conseil : “la prochaine fois que vous vous masturbez, mettez-vous un doigt dans le cul.” Bien noté. » Brain Magazine / (He slaughters the decadent bourgeoisie and toxic masculinity with a chainsaw and ends with the valuable advice, “next time you masturbate, stick a finger up your ass.” Duly noted.)


Music, concept, video: Philip Venables
Text & Performance: David Hoyle

Duration: 14 minutes

Ensemble: video projection, picc.bsax / tpt.tbn / pf.1perc(BD.whistle.tgl) /  
Requires click track (either for all players or a conductor)

Illusions is a piece for live ensemble and video projection.  It was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta as a “Note to the new government” and performed by them two days after the British General Election in 2015, at the QEH, Southbank Centre on London, 9th May 2015.  It is a collaboration with the performance artist David Hoyle

Illusions was extended in 2017 to replace the 2015 version, as part of the New Music Biennial 2017.  

The work was released on CD and download in 2018 by NMC Recordings for release as part of the Below The Belt album:
performed by the London Sinfonietta.
conducted by Richard baker
producer for NMC: David Lefeber

Buy Score

Hire performance materials