(SNODS EDGE) A quiet, autumnal atmosphere gently descends here on the moors of the northeast, and I’m sketching out the formal plan for my new project: a quintet for the Ives Ensemble, who will be coming over to Durham from Amsterdam at the end of November. I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but I think it’s going to be pretty intense. After the diaphanous lightness of atmosphere that generally defined my recently-completed series of four pieces for chamber ensemble, Maria Lunarem, this piece will be going deep and dark. I’m using only a portion of the ensemble, selecting only the mid- and low-range instruments: cor anglais, piano, viola, cello, and double bass. More information to follow as the piece develops!
For those of you in the Newcastle / Gateshead area: I’ll be giving a one-hour lecture, a “Beginner’s Guide To Contemporary Music” at The Sage on October 8th at 19:00. This is part of their fantastic Exploring Music series. Come listen as we take a whirlwind tour of some of the most vibrant and exciting pieces of 20th (and 21st) century music! It looks like you have to book tickets; have a look here to reserve your place.
(DURHAM) My good friend Billie Howard has a lot of irons in the fire. She’s certainly one of the most creatively diverse musicians that I know. In addition to her various music projects (NbN Trio, The Paver, Girl Group, among many others) she does a fantastic blog which explores the spaces in which musicians live and work. Whilst she was over visiting us from Chicago a couple of months ago, she took the opportunity to get some photos of my studio and to ask me a few questions. Check her out!
I’m remembering late September/early October of 2011 when I played a speaking role for the première of my friend Hashimoto Tomohisa’s opera The Butterfly Dream at the conservatorium in Den Haag. In one of the scenes, a duet with my character’s female paramour, we had alternating sections of text which were coordinated within 16-bar musical phrases performed by the stage ensemble; e.g. I had to “get in” my sections of text during my 16 bars before the next 16-bar phrase began, when Lovorka would take over with her text. What I remember very clearly is the actual sensation of the two discrete time streams in my awareness; the steady chronometric flow of the ensemble, and the more irregular, gestural temporal flow of my text as I spoke it. After rehearsing the scene only a few times, not only was I able to frame the text within the 16-bar metric framework (“getting my stuff in” before the 16 bars were finished), I was also able to give the text its own convincing temporal flow, one which was well-suited to the meaning of the words as well as to the dramatic requirements of the scene. In addition to this, during the rehearsal process I discovered several places where I could create emotive correspondences between certain words of my text and specific time points in the ensemble accompaniment, meaning that I had to pace myself accordingly to reach these various time points at the right moment and keep the discrete temporal flow of the text intact (not to make the text feel “rushed” or “dragging”).
Again, it is my memory of the delicious sensation of these two independent-yet-interacting temporal streams (text–music) sliding by one another that is so compelling, the more so because I am convinced that as a performer on stage I am not alone in perceiving the beautiful interaction of these temporal waves; the audience experience them too, and find them just as physically engaging as the musicians. It is a sensation which is absolutely unique to musical performance.
The temporal environment described above is the essence of rubato, an environment where a regular chronometric pulse (either explicit or implicit) acts as the frame for a more gestural temporal flow. Rubato literally means “robbed” in Italian, as the word in its classical sense usually means that one voice in the musical texture is quickening and/or slackening its pace in relation to a more or less strictly chronometric accompaniment, usually for expressive purposes. To be done effectively, the musician performing the rubato passage must be aware of and effectively manage two temporal streams: his / her own, as well as that of the accompanying musician(s). I am convinced that all truly great musicians possess this skill at a high level, and are indeed able to create musical coherence across an ensemble from two, three, or possibly even more (?) discrete temporal flows.
(SNODS EDGE) Here is the poster I made for the upcoming Ensemble 7Bridges debut concerts in Huddersfield and at The Sage, Gateshead. Just twelve days to go! If you’re in the northeast of England around the 18th and 19th of May, why not treat yourself to seriously good new-music juiciness? Take a gander at this:
In other news, I learned last week that my application for a UK residence card was refused on the grounds that I hadn’t sufficiently proved that I’m eligible for this type of permit, despite the fact that I’ve already essentially *got* one in advance of our arrival here last July…sigh. It’s complicated, having wholly to do with EU treaty regulations that apply to our specific situation (having moved to the UK from another EU member state), and the fact that my wife is British, and was employed in said EU state (The Netherlands). This particular residence card (the so-called ‘EEA Family Permit’) should be a fantastic deal for me as it’s free, unlike the sort of visa for which a Yank would normally have to apply, which costs upwards of 800 pounds. So far, so simple, right? The problem is that no one at the UKBA (UK Border Agency) seems to know much about this permit (‘Oh, it’s that EU stuff; not really sure about that, mate. Sorry I can’t help you..’) and after you apply you can’t get any information about what’s happening. The most frustrating thing about the process is that they actually take your passport, effectively trapping you in the country whilst they review your application. In my case, this has taken four months with the result being a refusal, for which I now have to appeal (meaning possibly another four-month wait, during which I have no way to leave the UK). The funny thing is, to get the EEA Family Permit you have to initially apply for an entry clearance visa (a full-page sticker in your passport) from your country of origin, in my case The Netherlands, during which process they check everything that was supposedly checked during this most recent phase of the process. I got this initial entry clearance last May (2012) with no problems. So: given that I successfully obtained an entry clearance, why should there be any need for them to check those same documents *again* now, just to obtain a residence card? And how is it possible that suddenly there isn’t enough evidence that G was working in Holland, despite the fact that we included official copies of her employment contracts in the application? This all has the stink of fussy, lumbering bureaucracy, and I absolutely HATE it.
(WEST RAYNHAM) Finished a quintet a couple of weeks ago, another in my “Lunar seas” series. I’ve now begun work on a trio for flute, viola, and piano which may be the final instalment. The instrumentation for each of these pieces is different, but they are all derived from the instrumentation of a piece I wrote for a workshop by the Ives Ensemble last year, “Mare Orientale.” The idea is that you could play all four pieces (when this last trio is complete, of course) in one half of a concert, comprising about 24 minutes of music, ordering them such that you begin with cello solo (Mare Insularum), then move on to the trio (Mare Marginis — in progress), the quintet (Mare Undarum), and finish with the octet (Mare Orientale). Of course, the pieces may also be performed individually or in other groupings. I’m in love with these pieces! The feel of time in each one is very individual, delicate, and controlled, whilst at the same time feeling very dynamic, almost improvisatory at times. It’s quite something. I love my job!
In other news, I’ve been asked by the newly-formed new music group Ensemble 7Bridges to perform the part of narrator for a Tom Johnson piece on their debut concerts at The Sage (Gateshead) and in Huddersfield, coming up in mid-May. E7B will also workshop my newly-completed “Mare Undarum” at Durham University next month. It’s exciting to start a new music ensemble, especially one which will be based in an area such as the northeast of England, a region that remains quite under-served in terms of contemporary music and art. Good times ahead! I’ll post information on those concerts when I have more details.
Had a good time in London last weekend with my friend Billie, a musician from Chicago whom I knew from our former days in Montana. She’d never been to London, so we had a ball doing the usual tourist things, also managing to find some cool, out-of-the-way markets, cocktail bars and restaurants. Good Japanese food. Finally saw the Tate Modern. We’ll be welcoming her to our neck of the woods in Northumberland on Tuesday, after she returns from Berlin.
(SNODS EDGE) Sitting in the Punch Bowl. This is our cozy local, nestled in the village of Edmundbyers (about three miles from our place), perched on the edge of the Pennines. It’s been a strange couple of weeks. With the snow storm that stretched across Britain and across the North Sea to Holland, we were snow-bound for about six days, finally able to get the car out last Saturday for a much-needed shop.
Work-wise, I’ve been focussed on some in-depth study of the SuperCollider programming language, a language which I’ve used for nearly all of my sound processing and synthesis since 2006. While I have attained some real fluency in the language, I’ve been in dire need of a re-think of my approach and coding technique for the last couple of years; it’s just never been a good time for an overhaul. I’ve always been under pressure to just get projects completed on time and I don’t use electronics/SC for every piece that I make. I know that there are ways to write my code more efficiently, make it more modular and flexible. To this end, I’ve been re-visiting the fantastic SuperCollider Book, particularly the chapters on object modelling, sonification, and “just-in-time” programming. During last autumn’s POW Ensemble tour, we did a piece by Wouter Snoei, who is quite an expert with SuperCollider. Examining his approach to design has really been a help as well. Compositionally, as I move from a non-realtime-synthesis / data processing focus into more interactive arenas, it seems a natural time to take a step back, study a bit and take my programming to the next level.
(SNODS EDGE) Just returned from a walk up around Ingram, Northumberland, just off the A697 south of Wooler. The area is beautiful and feels quite remote (at least as “remote” as one can get in the lower-to-middle portions of this island), and is notable for the scattered remains of hilltop settlements that date back some 2500 years and beyond. We parked on the River Breamish just past Ingram and walked southwest directly up Brough Law (“Laws” being “hills” in the old Anglo-Saxon) to reach the ruins of several enormous rings constructed of dry-stone wall at the summit. The views off to the west were stunning, with snow-lines visible on the higher moors to the south and west. At the top of Cochrane Pike, the midway point of our loop, we had proper fat-flake snow for about five minutes! It really was a lovely day, with dramatic snow / sleet clouds moving past us on all sides, with frequent sunbursts and hundreds of sheep and cows grazing the fields around. Shame about the bogginess. Being a Montana boy, I’m no stranger to outdoor hikes and hill / mountain walking, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer wetness of the muddy / mucky / slurpy ground here in Britain. The main problem is that I haven’t actually managed to get proper boots yet. While many of the cross-moor trails we’ve walked are marked reasonably well, the concept of the well-trodden trail is frequently all too rare a concept up here in the northeast, and one often has to simply wing it and go cross-country to reach a landmark which is recognisable from your Ordnance Survey map. The moorland up here is quite peaty and full of heather, bracken and gorse, with not a little bit of tufty long grass which is most excellent at disguising hidden soggy-boggies: how many times I’ve blundered into one, or more often, simply been forced to wade in due to the lack of any obvious alternate route. Real waterproof ankle-supporting boots with socks and gators are clearly a must, and not simply for the fashion conscious. Today, the legs of my jeans looked like a Pollock; completely soaked through by the time we’d finally made it round.
And now we’re back home with the Saturday papers and a glass of tokaji (thanks, Kinga!) and a roast chicken with stuffing and then maybe some Thomas Pynchon. Stay warm, everyone. It’s getting cold out there…