The performance is really starting to take shape now and I seem to be carving out a role for myself but it really is carving – definitely not something I’ve just stepped into, but I’m glad I decided to not bring my flute. It might have been easier if I had, but I think this experience is actually more valuable for me as a composer, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable at times.
This morning we finished making the camera-instruments, assembling our timers, the flash component (made safe by John) and the switch and pot control into the camera body. Fiddly work, but very satisfying and the cameras closed up perfectly once everything was in place and wires wiggled so as to be as low-lying as possible.
The afternoon was spent rehearsing the performance and I spent quite a bit of time working with Marie, who was organising the dancers and providing them with feedback due to being poorly and unable to dance herself. This was very satisfying, between discussing things with musicians, suggesting and discussing ideas with Marie, working out cues for musicians and dancers alike. It was a very productive afternoon, one of the best we’ve had, I think.
While the dancers were rehearsing Hug after this, I co-opted the musicians to try out some ideas I’d been playing with for the sudophones. Well, that was a bit of a bust, alas. And not helped by everyone being tired! So that idea’s gone in the bin, but we’re considering performing Stealth in the concert instead. Not entirely sure how that would work, but it might. At any rate, it was useful to work on the failed piece and while I’d hoped for input from the performers to try to make more of it, it still helped in that I think I’m beginning to see how working with unusual instruments such as these, for non-specialist performers, requires a different way of thinking from how I usually approach writi music. My ideas were too precise to work, I think, even though I’d tried to take into account the temperamental nature of the instruments and that they don’t all respond the same way – it seems to me that writing for stuff like this, you actually need to compose gestures rather than sounds. Compose the gesture and the sound will follow, but if you try to duplicate particular sounds, even allowing for variation, it all comes apart.
The main piece is coming in at about 17 minutes and I think John’s and my estimates were about right – it really couldn’t be any shorter – it needs that length to work through all the material, both audio and visual.
Today we skipped the making part of the day, which was kind of a shame – I’m really enjoying it and it’s the part where at the moment I feel I’m really most involved – but we did a bunch of other stuff and it was nice to mix things up. My big disappointment with the making is that we haven’t been able to make the synthesiser components ourselves. I get that there’s not much time and the really collaborative aspect of the week is creating the final work, but I really wanted to build one. Guess I’ll just have to find a book and do it myself at home some day
Instead, we started the day with working out some of the logistics of the flash piece – how many cameras will make noise? where will all the cameras be positioned on the stage? Do we want to be in complete darkness all the way through or have a low wash of light? That sort of thing. The dancers raised useful points about cables trailing across the stage for the sound-generating cameras, and came up with a good solution, to have the sound generating cameras at the edges of the stage, two at the front, two at the back, so that their cables can go straight offstage and not get in the way of the dance space at all. We also had a brief discussion about costuming. We’re discussing black vs grey and the possibility of leaving as much skin showing as possible to reflect the flash-light. Thank heavens I won’t be onstage!
We split into groups mid-morning to do some composing with the Sudophones and Merztins today, with the aim of performing them at The Duke pub over the road from Laban and in the Laban garden. I really enjoyed this activity as I felt it was something I could be really useful in and I was hugely pleased with the result of our work.
My group – consisting of Liz, Katie, Bianca and me – decided to prepare a piece for the pub. I suggested that, given that we weren’t going to be asking permission to perform it, that we work on the concept of a ‘stealth piece’ – one that started surreptitiously, then ‘came out’, as it were, to be super-noisy at the end. There had been some talk about whether we’d be kicked out of the pub if we performed without permission, so this seemed a good way to tackle that issue and to hopefully be able to at least get most of the way through it!
We started with our Sudophones upside-down to mute the sound, then we’d each gently take our tin, start the sound and tip the tin a little to let the sound out, then close it again and let go to stop the sound. We did this slightly randomly to start, with gaps between the sounds, then moved into a section where we were all making muted/unmuted sounds. Next was the ‘out of the closet’ section, where we boldly grasped our tins and turned them open-end up, continuing to improvise at full volume, then gradually moving into sustained ascending tones, which on multiple Sudophones sounds like they’re all trying to get into tune with each other but not quite succeeding.
And it went really well! We did the other two groups’ pieces out in the garden on our way to the pub, which was gosh-darned chilly but a lot of fun, then went over to The Duke en masse. We herded in, the barman pushed some tables together for us and we all ordered our drinks and eventually clustered round the table chatting. The chat was going pretty well, so we decided to just start our piece and see if the stealth effect really worked – and it did! Notwithstanding a Little Moment when Katie couldn’t get a sound out of her Sudophone and it turned out she’d forgotten to reconnect the battery but we just carried on with our stealth mode and gradually the group realised we’d started and our videographer (Cheng) hurriedly switched my camera on.
I upped the stealth factor (I like to think) by continuing to sip my tea through the first part, and it all went down a treat! Really worked well in the context and we got a round of applause from some random guys in the corner. It turned out the director of Laban was also there having lunch – he was a bit surprised by the sound but pretty quickly worked out that we must be a CoLab project. Heh. And the barman brought us a free plate of goats’ cheese risotto! I call that a win!
We spent some good time on the main work in the afternoon, putting together the acoustic instrument parts and I think it’s coming together well. My role is becoming a little more defined now, as I’m working with the instrumentalists to help mould the sounds they’re making to work within the context of the sounds from the cameras.
However, we musicians are also staging a small rebellion. Because the dancers have their own piece, Hug, the performers are feeling a bit under-utilised, and because I’m not in anything on stage at all, I kind of wanted to develop something extra. So we’ve suggested to John that we put together a new Sudophone piece, possibly to play while the audience are filing into the auditorium, and he seems to like the idea – and may even want to play in it himself!
So I spent some time with the Sudophones after the other students had gone this evening and have gathered some sounds which I think might work well, which I’ll suggest tomorrow. I don’t think I want to fully compose the piece, more bring along a concept and see where it goes when we start playing it, because if I just write it and they play it, then it’s not much of a collaboration!
So we’ve now had 2 days on our project and it’s proving delightfully varied. This morning we did some more making, getting our timer circuits ready to go into the cameras, and in the afternoon we started to work on ideas for our performance at the end of the week.
This has been a little vague to start with – because we’re still working on the instruments, we can’t tell exactly what the electronic sound part of the performance will be like, but we had John’s single assembled camera to work with and John, Neil and I used some of the disposable cameras to simulate the effect of the flashes on the stage.
We worked with the lights out in the studio to try to give more of a feel for what it’ll feel like onstage, although as the studio has a glass wall and mirrors all around and the stage will probably be pitch black it’s not quite the same!
We’ve decided that the instrumentalists will be onstage with the dancers and that they’ll be playing improvised sounds that relate to the electronic sounds, which start very low, below the threshold of hearing, gradually rise, then when the flash of the camera goes off, they jump up in pitch and continue to rise beyond the threshold of hearing. It’s great that we have a variety of instruments – tuba, clarinet, oboe and piano because it gives us a really good range to work with.
I’m not really sure yet what my role is or should be in the final performance. I had thought about bringing my flute on the first day, but it had sounded like instruments wouldn’t be needed. Today I was giving a little feedback on what the performers were doing but as John has such strong ideas for the piece, I feel a little redundant. Hoping this will become clearer as the week goes on.
The dancers started developing their own version of John’s Hug piece today. It’s coming along nicely and may end up being a part of our performance on Friday. We even took this out into the (very slippery!) foyer of Laban, which is a very interesting acoustic space for this type of thing – I was fascinated to hear how the asymmetrical architecture changed the sound as the dancers moved around the space.
Natalia and Stefania in our first public performance!
We also played with another of John’s instruments – another one made from a tin can, like the Sudophones, but this one is light-responsive and percussive. I don’t know what it’s called. It has a light-sensor on a long cable and responds to light by making the can rattle rather than by creating electronic sounds. Its battery is attached to a Matchbox car so it can move with the tin and it has a lovely enormous ostrich plume attached, which shakes in response to the can’s movement – a beautiful visual effect. I wanted to try it out on the slippery slope of the Laban foyer when we went out to perform Hug, but the one we had with us got knocked and I think John wanted to check it over before it was used again, so I didn’t get to do that.
I’m actually quite liking being at Laban for this though. At first I felt a bit exiled, being so far from Trinity (10 minutes walk for a dancer but 20 minutes’ trek for an injured composer!) but the benefit of being in new surroundings is that it’s making me not just fall into old habits – at lunchtime I can’t just go off and sit with my friends like I usually do, can’t just go to the library, so it’s always about the project and keeping me focused. I think that’s a good thing.
Finally we’ve got to CoLab – I can’t believe my year at Trinity Laban is going so fast – it’s just zooming by and I wish it wasn’t! I don’t want to leave! But like it or not, this week is CoLab. I had been a bit nervous at the prospect of an entire week of collaboration – it sounded exciting but also a wee bit terrifying for an unsociable composer but so far I’m loving it!
My project is Dirty Electronics with John Richards, which is happening in Studio 7 at Laban. I’ve only been to Laban once before, for Registration, so it’s all shiny and new and trying to find where the lifts are…
Today was quite gentle. We started with a sort of introductory chat session and did some demonstrations to show what we do – the dancers improvised in groups, the performers each played something, and Clemmie (our oboist) agreed to sight-read my piece Nest which I felt was more in the spirit of the thing than just playing one of my deeply inadequate recordings, then we were sent off for a coffee break (very welcome as I hadn’t managed to get any on the way in!) while John and Neil (a PhD student who works with John) set up the tables and soldering irons and prepared to induct us into the crazy world of electronics.
I’m really enjoying what John calls the “making”. He showed us what we’re going to be building, which is an electronic instrument in a disposable camera – the flash works by storing up electricity and we’re going to build a timer to adjust when the flash goes off, and there’ll also be a synthesiser component which makes sound in relation to the flash going off (I don’t entirely understand how it works but they’re related).
Hard at work making the timer circuits: Neil, Natalia, Stefania, Eleanora
So today we started work on the timer components. We were each given a wafer of circuitboard and John walked us through what went where and taught us how to solder. It’s actually not that hard to put this stuff together! The hard part is evidently in designing the circuit, knowing what parts to use and how to put it all together. By the end of the making part of the day we had assembled our timer circuits!
I made this!
In the afternoon, John introduced us to some of his other instruments – the Sudophone and its variant, the Merztin. These are instruments made out of baked bean tins and bolts (and screws for the Merztin) and have an electronic component and a small speaker inside. John demonstrated how they work by having us all hold hands. He held the Sudophone while I held the bolt, but it wouldn’t make a sound until we all held hands around the circle. The idea is that you make a circuit with your body, so if you only have one hand on the instrument, it doesn’t make a noise, but once you touch it with your other hand, you complete the circuit and get the sound. Very cool!
Sudophones & Merztins: Little tins of amazing noise
The other instrument he showed us is a cardboard speaker with a static-making component inside it. Very noisy! He told us about a work he created, called Hug, which uses this instrument and the goal is to mute it with the body. The dancers may work on this later in the week.
We also started work on some sounds for the acoustic musicians to use in the performance. We’re working on a premise of replicating the electronic sound (to a certain extent). This consists of an ascending tone, in two parts – the first part starts below the threshold of hearing and moves upwards until the flash goes off, when it leaps up and continues to ascend to above the threshold of hearing. I joined Gaspar at the piano for this part, messing around with playing on the treble strings, treble clusters and trying some percussive sounds on the piano too.
And we got an early mark! Which has been most welcome as I need to finish prepping my Runswick Prize piece tonight!
The carol is done! Well, there’s more I could do on the accompaniment, and I’m pretty sure the recording of me singing it (not quite complete as of typing this up) leaves a teensy-weensy something to be desired, but basically it’s done. Merry Christmas all, Fa la la la la, etc.
I’ve been thinking today (and for a few days now) about how best to tackle the two large-scale pieces on my list. I have vague ideas for starting-points for both of them – the orchestral piece is going to be a piece I’ve been thinking about for a few years now, called Fear of Falling, and the large ensemble piece at least has a starting texture – the flute/clarinet trills I plan to steal from the Elliott Carter piece I heard on Sunday night – but my problem is that for both of these we are required to prepare a short-score before beginning to orchestrate the pieces for the specified ensembles.
I’ve never worked in short-score before although I’ve tried without much joy. And our teachers haven’t really given us any guidance as to how to start. True, we’ve had exercises in Orchestration – Medium in reducing existing scores to a piano score, needing to ‘rationalise’ the material down into a more compact form (are these quarter-tones vital information, or are they merely decoration? Does this note contribute to the overall harmony here or is it additional?) which has been helpful in terms of how to think about this, but I’m a little at sea as to how to adapt my usual technique which consists of working directly with Finale’s approximations of instrument sounds, so that I always have that aural balance in my ears while I’m writing.
Lately I’ve been working more with sketches, so that I’ll put in a melodic line and make a note to thicken the texture around it, because I tend to work with lines not chords. It seems to me that this way of working is not really compatible with creating a short-score. The musical material is always bound up in what instrument will be playing it, and if I can’t hear it on that instrument, it’s hard for me to tell whether that line is too short or too long, if it needs to swap to another instrument or be reworked. Obviously, this is a deficiency of mine that I need to work on, but with such a tight deadline, it’s rather a big ask!
I can see the purpose of working in short-score for these. As it was described to us in Orchestration – Large the other day, if you were painting a mural on a wall, you wouldn’t just start on the left, painting in a detailed house, then decide to do a cow, then a barn and so on until you reached the end, you’d plan it all out in advance so you knew that everything would fit. This makes a certain amount of sense (if you ignore the fact that it’s a lot easier to go back over a piece of music and add or delete stuff in the middle than it is to delete a chunk of mural!) and I’m all in favour of giving it a go, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to how. The questions I’m facing are:
How do I record the textural effect I want to use in the strings at the start on a piano score? I want it to be a free texture of descending glissandi, where all players are going at their own pace.
How do I build the piece without hearing what it’ll really sound like?
If I’m working on the piece in Finale, which is my usual tool for most of my composing work, and the fastest way for me to work, what sound should I use for playback to give me the best idea about what I’m writing? I’ve tried converting works-in-progress into piano scores in the past and what sounds great on instruments (and has proved to work in rehearsal on real instruments) sounds a hideous jumbled mess with a piano sound.
So these are the questions I need to tackle, and probably this week if I’m to have a hope of getting this done. I really don’t want to have to cheat, write the orchestral score then reduce because that would defeat the purpose of the exercise! But with the time constraint, I’m a little at a loss.
One idea I’ve had is to use 1 line per instrument family – so 1 for strings, 1 for ww, 1 for brass, maybe 2 for percussion to allow for harp/piano/whatever. This would allow me to assign a default inst to that stave, preferably something tonally in the middle of the family – maybe clarinet for ww, trombone for brass, etc. So far this seems the most feasible solution to me.
Yep, that would be me. I know this is a little after the fact (well, about a week after the fact) but it’s time to face facts and admit the truth:
I have once again failed at Creative Pact
Not as bad a fail as last year, I think, but still, a failure’s a failure and I’m rather disappointed. I nearly wrote “disappointed in myself” but that’s not actually true. I wish I’d got more work done, and I wish that Lilies on the Silver Sea had actually worked, but I’m actually quite pleased with what I DID accomplish, especially with everything that was going on with the house and, in the final week, awful stressful clashes with our temporary accommodation landlord, including at one point him ringing me up and shouting at me, swearing at me and calling me a liar for no reason except he was in a temper. Given the circumstances towards the end of the month, I’m rather proud I managed to write anything at all.
The stress, however, has sent my creative brain into hiding again and it’s only just starting to peep out to see if the coast is clear. I do wish I could have had a calm week or two to act as a holiday before the start of my Masters degree (currently at the end of the first induction week) because looking at the timetable and assessment schedule and so on is kind of terrifying and I’m just emotionally exhausted (and a little bit physically exhausted too) by everything that’s happened in the lead-up to actually moving in here.
But we are moved in. And it’s better, if not ideal. We have a working shower, even if we only have an outside loo and are cleaning our teeth in the kitchen sink. We have a working washing machine and have discovered that if we close the window to the front basement room the clothes actually dry faster. We’re coping OK with the no-kitchen thing: tonight I made paella on the barbecue in our new paella pan we bought in Spain. So it’s all gradually coming under control at least.
So where did I end up with the pieces?
Well, Lilies on the Silver Sea is a non-starter. In spite of all the work I did on it, I don’t much like any of the fragments I wrote for it, or not for the quarter-tone alto flute. Maybe they can be used for something else. I think the piece I was trying to write is a group piece, not a solo, so it may yet turn into something else. I’ll need to start again for something for Carla
Ladders of Escape is getting there. I have been wondering lately whether perhaps I tried to take on too much by trying a new way of working and new ways of thinking in both these pieces – working with extended techniques and quarter-tones is not something I’ve done much of before, and never in an extended piece. Maybe I should have tried to do it using my usual techniques in spite of Finale’s inadequacies. At any rate, Movement 1 is essentially finished, just need to work it over checking ranges and maybe adding in some more multiphonics which kind of dropped out in the second half because I forgot about them in my hurry to sketch it all out. I think I need to go back and look at my Miro catalogue again to get some ideas about the 2nd movement. I know I want it to be faster than the first movement but that’s about as far as I’ve got. I haven’t managed to get the first movement complete for Pink Noise’s final rehearsal before Jen goes away for a bit.
Stuff I’ve learned in spite of the failure:
I actually can work away from the computer, and can even get quite a lot written (Movement 1 of Ladders of Escape was essentially written in three sessions with only tweaks in between, and while I don’t much like the stuff I did for Lilies on the Silver Sea, I did write a fair number of notes), but it’s really hard making myself do it. I experienced a LOT of resistance and I’m not entirely sure why. Possibly some of that was because of the new material I was tackling, as well as the new way of working.
I’m quite happy with the preliminary work I’ve done on Lilies on the Silver Sea, even though I’m not keen on the notes themselves. Perhaps octatonic was a mistake, but at any rate, I think this piece wants to be written, it just has to find out what forces it wants to be written for.
I was actually doing OK with working on the two pieces at once. I found it hard to work on both in the same day, but on alternating days that was OK. Going to continue to experiment, observe and work out how to do this over the course of this year, when I’m going to have a ton of stuff to write
So. *sigh*. That’s that then. And now I’m diving head-first into my Masters degree and I’m not sure how/whether I should incorporate these two pieces into the work I do for that. Need to think about that…
In happier news, I’m back working on a new piano egg and today I listened to some Debussy, Carl Vine’s Oboe Concerto and Peter Sculthorpe’s Piano Concerto. It’s been too long since I’ve done any serious listening. Must get back into it!
Today I’ve done a lot of thinking about my Creative Pact and what I said yesterday about carrying on with Lilies even though I suspect it’s wrong. And the more I thought about Lilies, the more I feel it IS wrong. I feel like I’m an Italian-speaker trying to give a speech in Spanish and getting all hung up on the minor language differences when what I have to say would come across better if I just spoke my own language. I really REALLY want to do this piece (well, A piece) for Carla – but the quarter-tones – and feeling I NEED to use the quarter-tones – is really getting in the way, even when I try to approach them as embellishments on a primarily 12-tone structure. My brain just seems to have hit a brick wall here.
I spent about 4 hours sitting in a park thinking about this and re-reading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (awesome book. If you are any sort of artist or inspiring artist – and most definitely if you are any sort of discouraged artist – you need to read this one). One of the passages I read that particularly resonated with me today was this:
Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work
The salient part of this, for me, right now, is the second part. I can see that I feel I have to use the quarter-tones (because why write for quarter-tone alto flute if you don’t?) but quarter-tones haven’t really been part of my own language up till now. I’ve used them in a couple of pieces from Lucky Dip, both of which were specifically written to experiment with them (among other things). On the one hand, I would like to learn how to integrate quarter-tones into my compositional language, but I’m really feeling lost as to how to do that. None of the approaches I’ve taken yet seems to have really worked for me. On the other, if I focus on writing the piece that I’ve imagined Lilies on the Silver Sea to be, I’m beginning to suspect it may have no quarter-tones in it. Would that be a problem? I don’t know – I’d have to ask Carla. I do still want to try with the quarter-tones though.
Contrary to what I said last night, I’m beginning to feel that it’s a waste of time and energy to push on the way I have been. The music I’m writing doesn’t fit the mould I’ve created for Lilies and the direction it’s taking won’t ever. Which reminds me of another bit of Art & Fear which struck me today:
Joan Didion … said ‘what’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone’.
It’s the same for all media: The first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit onlythat painting – they could go nowhere else.
I feel like I’m composing myself into a corner. Objectively I don’t mind what I’ve written so far, but it’s not what I wanted this piece to be. I’ve one final quote from Art & Fear which is also relevant:
Meanwhile artists who do continue [through the fear of only pretending to be an artist] often become perilously self-conscious about their art-making. If you doubt this could be a problem, just try working intuitively (or spontaneously) while self-consciously weighing the effect of your every action
This disjunct between the intuitive and the self-conscious is exactly what I’m experiencing here. I always work intuitively. I go where a piece wants me to go and mostly that works out just fine for me. However, continually reminding myself about the quarter-tones and also trying to use a particular scale (octatonic) because I wanted something that wasn’t going to be plain old major/minor is, I think, continually reining in that intuition and stopping the piece from leading me.
So instead of forging ahead, I’m going to let this piece lie fallow for a few days. I’m going to ignore what I’ve already done and try to come back to it with a fresh view, possibly to work on it using my usual methods (Finale, some piano work) to see what happens, possibly ditching the whole Lilies concept and going back to my original interior-design-based idea.
Oh, and in notes-based news, yes the notes I added to Ladders of Escape last night using the iPad piano are just fine, although I didn’t get to add any more today.
Also I saw one squirrel and a load of lovely busy bees in the park. And there were old men cheerfully playing lawn bowls in the sunshine. It was nice
Much better progress today. I’ve written a whole bunch of new notes for Lilies on the Silver Sea. I sat down this morning while waiting for the window-installation blokes to turn up and worked out what I want to do with the piece structurally. This has to do with both the structure of the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader and how to deal with the material I have, my difficulty proceeding and tendency to write short things, not long things.
My thinking at the moment (which may change!) is to think of the piece in four loose sections. The progress through the last two chapters of the book is as follows:
Dawn Treader travelling through sweet water.
Dawn Treader travelling through lilies
Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Reepicheep in the rowing boat
Edmund, Lucy and Eustace find dry land and the way home
In the book, the progress through these three phases is like a refinement – section 1 has the most characters involved – the principals, sailors, merpeople under the sea, section 2 focuses on the principals. In section 3 we leave the Dawn Treader behind and say farewell to Reepicheep, and then finally the sea stops and dry land is found for Edmund, Lucy and Eustace. Not quite Aslan’s country, but their way home.
Similarly, as the character count reduces and the focus narrows, the experience simplifies and becomes more ecstatic. This I’m not sure how to convey, but as it’s not supposed to be a retelling of the story in music, I’m not hugely concerned – I would like to achieve it, but right now I’m more concerned with creating a coherent piece which has a suitable dramatic drive to it.
So – for now, at least – the approach I’m taking, largely to help me over this stumbling block of not being sure of how to work with the quarter-tones and without my usual processes, is to create short sections of music. Right now I’m letting go a little and just coming up with ideas rather than writing a piece from start to finish as I usually would. I think this is a more productive way to approach this when I’m so uncertain about how to proceed. I’m using some of the ideas from the first section I wrote, some from the second, some being made up as I go along. I’m pretty sure at least some of what I’m writing will be chucked, but it’s keeping me moving and when I have a few ideas down then I’ll look at melding them together to create a proper piece. My vague thoughts at the moment are to end up with four distinct ideas, present them all in the first section, then in smaller clumps down through 3, 2 and to 1 as the final section, with the repetitions treating the quarter-tones slightly differently each time.
Alas, Ladders hasn’t had a look in today, what with the window installation and going two rounds with the tar in the bedroom (half the room done now!!). Tomorrow… tomorrow…
Yup, having settled on “Lucky Dip” as a name, and not having heard back from the owners of the Flickr image I wanted to use, I decided to draw my own, using the photo as a rough model. I drew the blackboard outline, a little bit of shadow on the back legs, the fringed border and the board itself in charcoal on half a sheet of A2 paper (I’ve been caught out by A2 paper before – far too big to fit on the scanner!), then pulled the scanned image (after cleaning up in Photoshop) over to the iPad to add colour and text. The final layout I did in Photoshop, after sending the coloured image back to the computer again.
I may tweak it later but as a first draft, I’m pretty pleased and I’ve put it up as the album image on SoundCloud.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve done any drawing, and longer still since I did any with actual paper rather than just the iPad, so this was a really fun project. The whole album’s feeling really real too now – there’s only one more track to come in, with two possible replacement tracks. Guess I should think about what order I want them all to go in too. At the moment they’re just in the order the recordings came in, but I’m thinking that shuffling them around might be more effective.
Today I received Kim Hickey’s recording of her piece, Flit, for flute. I am just amazed at all the great performances I’ve been getting for these pieces – so little time to prepare them and yet everyone’s done a really good job of capturing their piece and getting it recorded. I haven’t had to put on a stern face & tell anybody to try harder, nothing’s turned up sounding like it was recorded underwater in a bathtub in 1902. A couple of pieces have needed a touch of reverb to really bring out the tone of the instrument, and Kim’s recording needed a tiny bit of hiss reduced, but that’s been it, which has been both wondrous and a great relief because I’m no skilled recording engineer.
But I digress, here’s Kim’s piece:
I also posted an update of Alun’s tango – the original for some reason came through very very soft, so he’s adjusted his recording slightly and sent me a slightly louder one, which really makes a difference. It’s still fairly quiet, but there’s a bunch of tiny details in there which eluded me in the previous version.
Sam also sent me copies of some of his rejected takes for I Want It To Kill People. I found it absolutely fascinating to listen to the various approaches. They’re all good, but somehow the final take he settled on just interacts with the tape part a little more effectively than the other versions of the graphic score. What was particularly interesting was to hear the take on which he improvised, without the graphic score – that’s a really interesting piece. It’s not the piece that I Want It To Kill People became, but something else. It’s more enmeshed in the tape part – he’s taken some of the gritty sounds and used them as inspiration for the guitar part – whereas my vision of the piece was that the guitar was this soft and lovely thing with depths of aggression, Sam’s version is more like watching the soft and lovely guitar be corrupted by the aggressive tape part. Really fascinating. He’s also sent me just the guitar recording from the final version and I really think I will have a go at tweaking the tape part – there’s a blob of notes about a third of the way into the piece that really feel like a stumbling block, so I’m going to see if I can make them less intrusive.
So that’s RPM for today. No, the harp piece hasn’t happened yet. Yes, I’m hoping to get to it tomorrow. Today was full of client work and physiotherapist and – at the end – half of a wonderful concert by Joby Burgess at Wigmore Hall and a lovely chat with @stevegisby and his girlfriend. I managed to get there for the end of it (thank you, Central Line – not!) and got to hear Gabriel Prokofiev’s ‘Fanta’ from Import/Export and Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, movements II and III played on a MIDI xylophone, which was interesting, although I think I prefer the electric guitar version I have on CD in Sydney. Very much enjoyed the Prokofiev piece though – inventive, fun and very much a serious piece of music, in spite of the amusement factor of being played on glass bottles of Fanta. I did wonder, though, how long it’ll still be able to be played for – what happens when they no longer manufacture glass bottles of drink??? I guess it’s just a piece that embraces its own ephemerality.
I seem to have come out of the day with a Proper Job too. And the best sort of proper job – mobile web dev, working from home, for about a week, for a client who used to be a colleague when I was at LBi and who has now set up her own UX business for financial services companies. Really looking forward to this one.
One day to go. One recording to come in. This time tomorrow night, RPM 2012 will be complete!
And another one! Yesterday I was really struggling. I knew Jen was going to be in London with her recorder today and I really wanted to have something for her to play. I wrote something, but I really thought it wasn’t terribly good. I was trying to get the sound of the recorder into my head – so very different than a flute or clarinet or anything I usually write for (coming to the conclusion that writing for recorder is more like writing for really flexible brass than orchestral woodwinds) – but it didn’t seem to be sticking and everything felt wrong and blech. Then I woke up this morning and was completely convinced it was rubbish and I’d have to start again, but as I’d put so many extended techniques into it – flutter-tonguing, multiphonics, singing into the recorder, quarter tones – I figured I might as well see what she made of it and hear what these effects really sounded like.
Well, knock me down with a feather. She started to play, and it all coalesced! We needed to do some tweaking on the third of the group (she gets a tiny triptych) but the first two are pretty much as they were when I first wrote them last night. And while it’s an odd piece, it grew on us as she played through it more and now I think I’m rather fond of it. And that’s number 5!
Right now I’m waiting for Windows to fire up so I can scan the multiphonics fingering page out of Walter van Hauwe’s The Modern Recorder Player (Vol. III) to send to Jen with the score. This has been a really useful book, for the multiphonics in particular – lovely strong, clear sounds. It’s a real joy to use them. There’s loads of composer-friendly info in there, and while it’s aimed at performers who want to play these effects, it’s also really useful for working out what’s possible for writing them. The other resource I found really helpful for getting me started was Australian composer & recorder-player Ben Thorn’s quick introduction on the Orpheus Music site.
I sent a quick update out to the performers today. Seeing as people seem to be enjoying their pieces, even when they’re bewildered by them, I’m going to compile them all into a single volume and send out a hard-copy to the performers to thank them for their hard work. After all, I just have to write the stuff (and, obviously, choose the fonts. Very important, that) – they’re the ones who need to play it and get it to a decent-enough standard to go out into the world with their name on it! So I thought it would be a nice thing to get them properly printed and bound up, all as a group.
And now it’s half-past twelve and I’m not quite ready for sleep. My Da’s gone into hospital in Australia tonight for ‘tests’. God knows what they’ll find. Hopefully something easily fixable, but sleep’s a tricky thing under these circumstances, so it’s back to more work on the slide guitar piece. Graphic score, I will subdue you!