A visit to Whitby for a good friend's birthday presented the opportunity to capture some coastal recordings for my sound library. Unfortunately, I came down with an awful virus that very weekend and had to spend most of our short break recovering in bed - how disappointing!
Although being very poorly, I was able to grab some quick and very rough recordings - nothing of much use but I've certainly learned a lot about recording on wet sand! The great news is my windshield worked brilliantly and even this simple microphone was able to pick up some decent coastal ambience, thanks in large to the quiet pre-amps on my recorder.
Now the weather is improving there will no doubt be more opportunity to get out and capture more sounds in the field without threat of rain ruining my gear or excessive winter wind ruining my recordings!
I am currently working on a composition which makes use of the various sounds generated by 'playing' a variety of coins currently in circulation in the UK. I wanted to use the sounds created when handling coins ( which are a physical manifestation of a national/global system: the 'idea' of the coin is worth more than the actual metal it's made from) for their symbolic nature and how we attempt overcome certain obstacles that arise throughout the course of our lives.
As well as myself, a poet, a visual artist and a documentary film maker were also part of the creative team. The video above is the documentary which captured the excavation and includes several interviews with some of the professional archaeologists and team leaders involved in themassive project...as well as an impromptu interview with me on-site!
You can read more about the excavation itself and my approach to the compositions in this blog post.
I’ve been very busy with a commission for Barnsley council under the Great Places Scheme, focussed on an exploration of the history within a local area known as Milton, nestled between Barnsley and the Elsecar Heritage Centre.
I was approached in June through ROAR to compose a piece of music as my reaction to an archaeological dig. The aim of the lottery-funded excavation was to locate and unearth evidence of the long lost Milton Ironworks which belonged to the Wentworth estate. You can read more about the project on the Great Places website but the short of it was to involve local communities and artists in locating and excavating the long-lost Milton Ironworks.
From soundscape to vocal music
With the intention of composing a soundscape, I spent two days on site recording various sounds of digging, scraping, rasping, spading and talking using a combination of ambient and contact microphones. After recording, cataloging and enhancing/editing the sampled sounds I began my usual process of arranging my materials - I like to sit at the computer and play with sounds as a way of ‘getting to know them’: moving them around, making them louder or quieter and combining them in various ways. The audio piece, Stratum under Milton: II, came together relatively quickly, drawing influence for rhythm and structure from hip-hop and turntablism, mostly the likes of Coldcut.
During composition of Stratum under Milton: II, I noticed I was once again thinking about how the sounds were created by the hand tools used during the excavation - sonic remnants of the human activity of digging. This led me to think about and research into the workers of the original Ironworks, whose traces of working lives were being uncovered - I wanted to write a piece with this in mind...it felt as though our excavation was releasing whispers of the past trapped in the ground...
Local folk songs and tradition
Writing for four-part choir made a lot of sense once I discovered several local folk songs from the period. I borrowed five pitches each from two folk songs to create two distinct scales. I alternate between these to create movement and familiarity in Stratum under Milton: I. I explain this in a brief discussion of my approach to the compositions which I prepared for the exhibition at Elsecar Heritage Centre. I spent several months composing Stratum under Milton: I and the composition coincided with an artist's visit to Wentworth Woodhouse, which you can read more about in this blog post.
My initial intention for the project was to compose three movements: the first and second were completed to specification. However, the deadline for exhibition was moved forward by several months and I was unfortunately not left with enough time to complete the third movement, which would have brought vocal and recorded audio together: live singers with a recorded audio track in a live performance setting. I was quite excited by this idea and it still needs making but that'll be for another project.
Through composing for vocals using traditional notation, I rekindled my desire and joy of writing using five-line staff and I have just started sketching out some ideas for my next piece.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of working from Wentworth Woodhouse as part of ROAR's fifth gathering of local artists and arts organisations. The day began by meeting fellow artists which I find quite relaxing as I enjoy the social aspects of the arts, especially talking about art, music and the way other people work. Artists came from around South Yorkshire for a day of art and conversation in the Grade 1 listed building.
We were given a tour of the house and grounds, including the space we would later choose to work in for the day. Two rooms struck me immediately: the first was the Marble Hall, designed c.1725 by John Carr of York. This 60ft square hall, finished with Italian marble, is an astounding space. The reflection of both light and sound is impressive and has given me plenty to think about since my visit! I would love to compose a piece of music especially for this room - one which makes full use of the amplification and reverberation of this amazing space: all sounds seem impossibly loud, yet truly loud sounds fly from corner to corner! I felt as though I could listen to this space for a good while.
The second room was the Painted Drawing Room which was used in several scenes for the TV show Wives and Daughters in the late 1990s. The room is decorated with images depicting the human senses, painted directly onto the walls! This seemed the perfect room for me and I positioned myself in the corner which depicted sound and music.
The light was pale and the room cold but it was serenely quiet. This was perfect for finishing the second movement of a piece I am writing for the Great Places Scheme, which saw a research excavation take place on a site near the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which is directly connected to the history of Wentworth Woodhouse.
If you've not visited Wentworth Wood house, I urge you to do so - the rooms and gardens are spectacular! The roof is currently being replaced with new tiles. For a small fee you can have your own tile inscribed with whatever you wish, to become part of the house's history.
Lots of fun at the third ROAR Gathering at The Factory this weekend!
I was delighted to exhibit two pieces: Questioner, 1863 and Apprentice. These pieces demonstrated my use of video in creating realtime scores for musical improvisation, as well as silent video art aimed at generating an imagined sonic experiences.
The large concrete space carried the flute sounds of Questioner, 1863, creating dream-like apparitions throughout The Factory, while the darkness of the projection room provided excellent contrast to the hands seen in Apprentice.
Collecting feedback through exhibition is essential and although there was some competition with the royal wedding, football cup finals and delightful weather, many artists were presenting work. Discussing exhibiting artists' sculptures and pieces of audiovisual installation with them inspired me to think about new ways of working for exhibition.
Throughout April, ROAR are hosting their third iteration of the Hung exhibition, where artists are invited to create and contribute pieces by hanging their work in the provided spaces around the gallery.
I saw this as a perfect chance to come up with a piece for the gallery which hosts my teaching studio as I had not yet composed anything specifically for them! I wanted to provoke the viewer into considering what a musical notation actually is, or what it could be. I created a score which provides the performer with some rather tricky decisions. Some musicians would consider this to not be a completed score, others would enjoy the freedom the score provides.
The score provides some indication of pitch, rhythm and dynamic but meter, bar line clef and instrument(s) are absent. As the score is somewhat indeterminate I have no idea what sound it would produce if played.
I have composed several indeterminate pieces in my short years as a composer, but I have not done so for some time and really enjoyed working on this short notation.
I have no idea how fast, slow or long the piece is (any time), exactly what instruments may be used, nor exactly what pitches would be revealed through performance (any place).
Any time, any place (2018) is available for download from my Compositions page.
I always welcome your input, so any questions or comments on this or anything else on the website can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
I've added a Compositions section to the website!
A selection of pieces have been added along with sound and/or video files and performance notes.