Marc and the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

IMG_6642Marc met Max at the Hoy Summer School in 1994 when he was selected as one of ten composers to attend the course. Before this, Marc had no contact with other composers. The course proved to be a revelation and the start of Marc’s career as a composer. After the course Max told Marc that he wanted to support and promote his work. Subsequently Max organised Marc’s first commission with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for the St. Magnus Festival in 1997 which Max conducted. Max went on to conduct a number of Marc’s other orchestral works including PAGAN II and I See Blue with the BBC Philharmonic and Gerwaundhaus Radio Orchestra in Leipzig, Germany. Marc became close friends with Max across the years and spent many weeks with him on Hoy and latterly Sandy on the Orkney Isles.

A number of commentators have defined Marc’s relationship to Max as that of a protege. Although Max never engaged in any form of formal teaching with Marc or inclined him to take up any of his compositional methods or aesthetics, Max was and continues to be a huge supporter of Marc’s work. They continue to share developments and ideas in their compositional practice with Max taking a great interest in Marc’s work with mobile technologies and asynchronous structural approaches in composition and visual art work. Max always remarked he was intrigued by two particular aspects of Marc’s development; how he had learned so much and could compose as he did without any formal training or support in composition or instrumental tuition, and that Marc was an accomplished painter, again without any training.

“Mr. Yeats has a surprising and I think unique artistic vision. When I first encountered his work I was very aware of a lack of professional training in musical composition and realised, next, that here were developments in the architecture and soundscape of his musical world which were quite unlike anything previously encountered. I presumed this was a direct result of his being forced by an extraordinary creative imagination and energy to find ways of circumnavigating these lacunae in practical musical experience . . . . . . by studying and learning very fast, to a degree of hot intensity I never encountered.” Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Max's comment upon receiving North Sound, an orchestral piece Marc dedicated to Max in 2005 for his 70th birthday.

Max’s comment upon receiving North Sound, an orchestral piece Marc dedicated to Max in 2005 for his 70th birthday.

“Marc Yeats’ musical voice is quite unlike anything else; the music is challenging to both performers and audiences, and very communicative. He produces extraordinary compositions that not only look and sound good, but demonstrate a very high level of academic learning, while being breathtakingly original.” Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

In 2004 Max dedicated his Scottish Chamber Orchestra string orchestra commission, ‘Fall of the Leafe’ “to the Skye composer and painter Marc Yeats”

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Awards, Prizes Commissions and Memberships

Awards, Prizes, Commissions and Bursaries (selected)
1994 Hoy Summer School, SCO, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – attendance bursary
1994 Scottish Arts Council Summer School and Travel Bursary.
1995 Scottish Arts Council Composer Bursary.
1995 Scottish Arts Council. Attendance fees for the Association of British Orchestras Conference.
1996 Scottish Arts Council Composer Bursary.
1997 Scottish Arts Council Composer Bursary.
1997 Commission – St Magnus Festival – 25 minute orchestral piece for the SCO
1997 Hope Scott Trust Composer Bursary (for 3 years).
1997 Scottish Arts Council Commission for visual art ‘Resound’ project.
1997 Prize winner – Next Millennium International Composers Award, Japan.
1999 The Arts Trust of Scotland – travel expenses for Italian performance.
1999 Commission – BBC – 32 minute orchestral work for the BBC Philharmonic and Kathryn Stott
1999 Commission – The London Sinfonietta – ensemble piece
2001 Commission – Kathryn Stott – solo work for saxophone
2001 Five Islands Project – Colour Songs: The National Lottery Access and Participation Scheme.
2001 Commission – Sarah Watts – solo work
2002 Commission – Hebridean Music Workshops SAC lottery funds – 40 minute ensemble work
2002 Commission – Hebridean Music Workshops – SAC lottery funds – 5 watercolour paintings
2002 Commission – ensemble piece – 175 East, New Zealand
2003 Commission – Lonba, Argentina – ensemble piece
2004 Commission – An Tuireann – Stillness in movement – 60” ensemble piece
2004 HI~Arts – Artist’s creative bursary
2005 Commission – Henri Bok – solo work
2005 Commission – Rotterdam Conservatorium – orchestral work
2005 First prize – international composing competition, WBCC, Rotterdam, Holland
2006 GO EVENTS – grant towards development of website music download facilities
2006 Hope Scott Trust – Funding towards the production costs of the new CD opera – Haar
2007 Commission – Scottish Clarinet Quartet – work for 4 bass clarinets and percussion
2007 Commission – Symposia – work for 4 instrumentalists and digital sound-track
2007 Commission – SCAW – new work for bass clarinet, piano and electronic sound-track
2007 Commission – Trio IAMA – new work for flute, cello and piano
2007 Scottish Arts Council – Professional Development Grant – developing new dance music.
2007 – 2009. An extensive list of commissions specifically referenced in Yeats’ music biography.
2008 Hallé Orchestra with My Blood is as Red as Yours for World Aids Day
2009 Arts Council England – Grants for the Arts – collaborative locomotive GPS music/word fusion.
2009 Kokoro – commission, ‘shadow and the moon’ for sextet.
2009 BBC commission. rhema for harpsichord circa 10mins. In total.
2010 Announced as Composer-in-Association with Manchester Pride
2010 1 of 5 shortlisted composers with PRSF NMA (Turner Prize for music) with SATSYMPH
2011 Commissioned work for Consortium5 recorder quintet for 2011 – ‘the bone eating snot flower’
2011 New work ‘crowded rooms’ for 14 instrumentalists for Leeds University in March 2011
2011 Commissioned work for silent film with Ensemble Amorpha (amorpha_shorts) for 20112011 Commissioned work ‘Eris’ for flute and viola Manchester Pride Music Festival 2011
2011 Commissioned work for a cappella massed amateur choirs ‘sturzstrom’ for 2012 Cultural Olympiad in Dorset (Coastal Voices)
2011 Commissioned work SATSYMPH – on a theme of Hermés
2011 Commissioned work ‘TLOS’ for violin, clarinet and piano – Elektrostatic Festival 2012
2011 Commissioned work ‘Worship of the Oak’ for Aquinas Piano trio and Manchester Pride Music Festival 2012
2012 Commissioned work ‘the magical control of rain’ for piano (Mark Spalding)
2012 Commissioned work ‘the need-fire’ string quartet for the Hillman Quartet and Corsham Festivals
2012 Commissioned work ‘black-bile’ for ensemble – for Thumb Ensemble
2012 Commissioned work ‘sanergia’ for MusicOrba Duo (piano four hands)
2012 Commissioned work ‘pathos’ (solo cello) for Antara Project
2012 Commissioned work ‘strange and artificial echo’ for solo quartertone alto flute for Carla Rees
2012 Commissioned work ‘quarter-sounds’ study in bass clarinet multiphonics for Sarah Watts
2012 Commissioned work ‘from manuscripts of moving song’ string quartet for the Bergersen Quartet
2013 Commissioned work ‘the shape distance’ mixed ensemble – Chamber Cartel US
2013 Commissioned work ‘through woods in riot’ brass quartet – Meridian Brass
2013 Commissioned work ‘corpuscular theory of light’ trio – Markus Wenninger
2013 Commissioned work ‘and cherries all black’ double bass and piano – Geert Callaert
2013 Commissioned work ‘lenten fires’ piano – Geert Callaert
2013 Commissioned work ‘the dog and the wolf’ mixed ensemble – We Are Wolfpack
2013 Commissioned work ‘invoco’ duo – Post-Haste Reed Duo US
2013 Commissioned work ‘black root’ E flat clarinet – Markus Wenninger
2013 Commissioned work ‘a theft of cold moisture’ flute – Manchester Pride Classical Concert Series
2013 Commissioned work ‘hyran’ viola – Stephen Upshaw
2013 Commissioned work ‘oros’ for 8 voices – Auditiv Vokal Dresden
2014 Commissioned work ‘vulgar gorgon’ rock ensemble – Clibber Jones Ensemble US
2014 Commissioned work ‘sculptures in bright blue’ soprano and alto saxophone – KOEK Duo US
2014 Commissioned work ‘a pathology of line’ bassoon and piano – Geert Callaert
2014 Commissioned work ‘streaming’ alto flute – Carlton Vickers US
2014 Commissioned work ‘new work’ piano, harp and 2 percussion – Chamber Cartel US

Membership and Affiliations
1993 – 1996 Member of the Skye and Lochalsh Arts Council.
1995 – Member of the Performing Right Society.
1995 – Member of Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.
1996 – Nominated to full membership of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain.
1996 – 2005 Board member for An Tuireann Arts Centre.
1997 – Artistic Director for Skye and Lochalsh New Music Festival.
1998 – 2000 Vice Chairman for An Tuireann Arts Centre.
1998 – 2003 Member of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.
2000 – 2005 Chairman of the Board of Directors, An Tuireann Arts Centre.
2006 – 2007 Board member – HI~Arts
2007 – Advisor to the Board of An Tuireann Arts Centre
2009 – Board member of PVA MediaLab, Bridport, Dorset
2009 – 2012 Chair of PVA MediaLab, Bridport, Dorset
2011 – Chair of Reach Dorset – therapeutic arts activities for people with mental health issues.
2011 – Set up SATSYMPH LLP as a founding partner.
2012 – Chair of DIVAcontemporary – artist-led arts organisation based in Dorset specialising in sound
2013 – Composer-in-residence to Chamber Cartel [US]
2014 – Composer Curator with Sound and Music
2015 – Composer Advisory Board, Sound and Music
2015 – 2016 Composer-in-residence to The Observatory
2016 – Composer-in-residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospitals

Current Research :: asynchronous composition

Asynchronous composition: The context for this research is based in work exploring the transducted, semiotic and hermeneutical relationships between my work as a composer and visual artist.

I’ve always had a strong interest in relationships between the visual [my paintings] and the aural [my compositions] and have eagerly explored any opportunities to delve further into the way this works. Most recently, my role as Composer-in-Residence to the observatory allowed me to explore these relationships in the greatest depth. My imagination was full of impressions and ideas following the residency at Winchester Science Park as part of the observatory experience and I had a large collection of photographs, sketches and videos to draw upon [see Composer-in-Residence to the Observatory 1a]. These were external things – props, if you like – physical outcomes of my research into the site. Alongside these items was a vast soup of internal impressions, noises and intentions – all swimming around in my imagination like a bag of frogs, wriggling and seething and very difficult to hold onto. Together they comprised the evidence that I had experienced the wonderful chalk landscapes around Winchester but the prospect of starting a string quartet from scratch based upon these impressions – breaking the silence of the page with my little marks, dots and lines was a daunting prospect. Bringing something out of nothing always is.

My approach is to break my way in – charge through the door with bluster and see what happens on the other side. It’s a way of breaking the ice – and the fear!
With painting I just throw stuff about with abandon and masses of kinetic energy in the hope that something will emerge. Invariably it does, as this almost violent act serves to break the virginity of the page and take away its power to immobilise; you can stare at the page or manuscript and feel intimidated by its whiteness or emptiness. It takes a mighty leap of faith to start. I take the same view to starting a piece of music, but it’s not so easy to just throw stuff around spontaneously when you’re dealing with notes. Some of my sketches from the residency were precursors to scores, undoubtedly, but they were not the final notation – they remained as frozen kinetics, sound suspended in line, and this sound needed to be reformatted into a more standardised notation to serve my purposes, a process that takes time and unfortunately, time is the enemy of spontaneity – deliberation kills it.

marc_and_compositional_peripherals01_website_image_tolk_standardI have two methods that I hope enable me to develop spontaneity in my compositions baring in mind the limitations around real-time kinetic and gestural capture [I can’t notate as fast as I think but I can draw and paint very fast as there is a direct relationship between my thoughts, translation into movement on paper and the end result of the painting. For music this may apply in forms of graphic notation, which are repurposed forms of drawing, but for more standard forms of notation there is a degree of meticulous scribing that destroys spontaneity of gesture]. I labour this point because my remedy has led me to approach composition in very particular ways.

There are two aspects [at the very least] to the character of a finished piece of music as well as the way it is perceived by performer and audience, again from different perspectives; one is the ‘look and feel’ of the notation itself – what’s on the page, how it was put together, the sounds the notation implies etc., and the manner in which the music is performed or delivered to the listener. It is the combination of these two factors that combine to create the nature of the finished piece. Concept, notation and delivery become the same thing in aural terms – it’s the stuff we listen to! There is of course a whole other layer on top of this around how the music is perceived by the listener, but such reactions are way beyond my control – they remain the responsibility of the listener, so I will leave that well alone.

So, what are these two approaches I use to try and imbue spontaneity into my music?
The first involves me building any new pieces out of materials I already have – a ready made object is as good a term as any. This found object can be for any other instrument[s] and be a solo or ensemble piece. It is almost always a completed piece [as opposed to a sketch]. I choose the pre-existing piece I feel has some of the qualities I’m looking for in the new music I want to create. I then take that material and build onto it, destroy areas of it, distort it, lengthen, shorten, randomise pitches, cut up, amalgamate and mix up the original structures. I execute this process as quickly as I can. I don’t want to think or calculate outcomes at this stage – I’m trying to remove certain aspects of my decision making to allow chance and speed into the process [like the painting and drawing, I am hacking my way through material in a process of assimilation trusting that the rough edges I produce will bring a freshness, unpredictability and kinetic mobility to the notation].

 

marc_and_compositional_peripherals01_website_image_tolk_standardThrowing around this found object material ensures that I very quickly get over the blank page syndrome as the page is immediately covered with notation. My processes of transformation move the material I am working away from the original although there is invariably a genetic ghost remaining of the former piece. I don’t mind this at all – it brings a consistency of voice to my compositions, as they are all linked in real terms no matter how destructive the transformative process is. In rather loose terms, this process is a form of transduction – the changing of material from one state to another. I rather like the idea of being a notational alchemist as the processes I use at this stage are intuitive, responsive and reactionary.

This brings me onto the second method I use to engender spontaneity in my work that involves notation and notational process but is even more concerned with performance and delivery techniques – asynchronicity.

The first part of this process involves working up the material for all four instruments of the quartet in isolation and without reference to each other using the material as comes out of the first-stage process. I do this because I want each instrumental voice to feel like an independent entity with its own nature, dynamic, gestural and structural logic and strategic role to play. I don’t view these individual instruments as playing a supporting role in any harmonic sense to any other instrument – such supporting as arises is incidental and a perceived relationship by the listener rather than an intentioned one [in most instances, at least]. Each part has independent tempi, different bar structures and material occurring at different times. All of these ingredients will run similarly through all four parts but not necessarily simultaneously in real time when the parts are stacked vertically in performance. This brings me onto an interesting outcome. As instrumental parts are running at different speeds to each other [this is why the music is asynchronous] I cannot and do not produce scores, that is, I do not attempt to display the vertical alignment of materials in a printed, notational format as it would be a lie, it would attempt to fix something on the page that is not intended to be [so] fixed in real life and real time. A score, whilst being very pretty and very complicated to look at would give the wrong psychological message about what the music is and how it should be approached in performance and sound. A vertical score at some level implies fixed elements – totally fixed, even if the score attempts to mitigate against this using different devices and explanations – the reader will still approach it as a vertically aligned concept which they then have to break to get an impression of what’s really intended. For me this is a bit like putting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work and should be avoided. So, I avoid it. No score.

observation 1.5 [no man’s land]: an example of an asynchronous trio.

observation 1: an example of an asynchronous string quartet.

and shapeshifter; an asynchronous ensemble piece:

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REFOUND SOUND 3

[Research 3 Yeovil District Hospital]

I’ve now had a few more visits to Yeovil Hospital and these have helped me to formulate my ideas around the finished installation work and the type of vocal content I would like to populate it with.

Yeovil and Dorchester Hospitals are very different beast architecturally and it is clear there are more challenges around siting a sound installation in Yeovil Hospital than in Dorchester Hospital due to the design and layout of the building. I like a challenge so am undaunted about this and will explore the possibilities in the coming weeks with staff at Yeovil. In fact, one member of staff in particular who has been a joy to work with; Janine Valentine, Nurse Consultant for Older People.

Janine has shown me around a whole range of wards and departments in the hospital that come into contact with elderly patients and therefore a proportion of those who are confused or suffering from dementia. Without fail, the atmosphere and mood of the staff on the wards I have visited has been fantastic – happy and joyous, I’d say, and this wasn’t just because I was visiting; it was clear the care, attention, camaraderie and morale was extremely high. This made the wards feel friendly, homely and much less intimidating than these busy environments would suggest, especially to the elderly, frail and confused. There is a family feeling on the wards and it was this that leapt out at me as my first impression.

IMG_8467 Janine Valentine: Nurse Consultant for Older People

 

As well as showing me around and meeting other staff, Janine and I had the opportunity to discuss the project. I enjoyed this bit especially, not least because Janine’s initial impressions around the outcomes of the finished piece – what it would sound like, what it would do and whom it was for where different from mine. Janine knew that my music wasn’t playful or melodic and had a tendency to be wild and dissonant.

Janine drew an interesting comparison between the intention of the music activities that occur on the wards – to soothe, entertain, provoke good memories, to stimulate participation and singing along – generally creating a good time for all, were markedly different from the outcomes of my music which could be complex, confrontational, overwhelming, not a sing-along and possibly disturbing for some.

Of course the difference in outcomes of these two activities lies with the intention of the artist [in my case] or musician in the case of on-ward activities and the audiences the outcomes are aimed at. The ward-based activities could be loosely described as therapeutic entertainment and are firmly geared towards patients. My work is neither a therapeutic activity, nor an entertainment and is aimed at a wider public including health and arts professionals with an aim of offering different perspectives around dementia when presented to audiences as an installation; a piece of art. My work is not designed for people with dementia and although being installed into public areas of each hospital for a time, the work will most likely spend most of its ‘life’ away from hospitals at arts and health conferences and arts festivals – again, reaching out to those wider audiences.

Once we had established the differences between my activity and the hospital-based therapeutic music activities I could see Janine was becoming very excited about the hospital being involved in something quite different to what had gone before and was quickly becoming as excited as me about the prospect of this new, possibly quite challenging work having a life and [hopefully] positive influence away from the hospital. I think Janine’s relationship to the idea of ‘dissonance’ in music may be on the move, too!

One outstanding area of research I needed to complete was to talk to someone about their personal experience caring for a loved one who developed dementia and what that meant to them from the very human side of living with and caring for someone who’s health consistently deteriorates until they pass away.

Janine introduced me to the amazing Sue Finer, an inspirational woman who has been on this journey with her late husband and is now sharing her thoughts about Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, in a book she is writing. Sue is a volunteer at the hospital and has become a major advocate for the hospital’s work with dementia – in fact, the word volunteer is a little misleading as in many ways, her work with dementia has become an essential aspect of the hospital’s work advocating and supporting dementia care and activities within wider communities.

Sue very kindly spoke to me candidly about her husband’s disease, how it progressed, and how this impacted on their lives. These stories were very personal but also hugely universal to so many living with the effects and affects of dementia. It was the very personal nature of this conversation, the small details, insights and observations that really helped me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding. This information was also transformed [or at least will be] into content – vocal content, words and utterances for the installation.

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Like Janine, Sue wasn’t quite sure exactly what my role as Composer-in-Residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospitals was and what sort of work was being proposed. We discussed this for some time. I talked Sue through my ideas, drew a few diagrams to illustrate how the installation would work and what sort of content would be in it – how I’d work with the choir to produce the music etc., and how I’d been conducting my research so far and where that had led me. Again, like Janine, Sue had spent some time online researching my work and listening to recordings of pieces and couldn’t make the leap between what she had heard from my asynchronous, noisy, complex music to an installation about dementia. A totally understandable position!

Sue had also read my REFOUND SOUND blogs but still was unclear where I was heading with everything, which is no surprise as there is a large aspect of the blog that is very much ‘thinking out loud’, and working through challenges and questions in an open manner. I call this ‘open research and practice development.’ It can be confusing for those looking in.

I could see the moment when Sue totally ‘got’ what I was telling her and she could imagine the finished installation and its sound-world and vocal content. It’s a wonderful moment when another person really resonates with what I’m proposing and moves from a position of uncertainty to becoming a firm ally and advocate for the work.

So now, throughout the month of April it is time to gather all this material together and produce the words and music ready for the recording session with the choir which is now confirmed for the 30th April.

It’s becoming more real!

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ReFound Sound 2

[research 2]

This second blog is mainly dedicated to an article Dr Alex Murdin, Arts and Health coordinator at Dorchester Hospital has written about ReFound Sound and my role as composer-in-residence.

But before that, a little about my last visit to Dorchester Hospital.

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After attending a cookery class on Barnes Ward [they were making rock cakes] and talking to a number of patients there [and after eating the cakes] Alex and I went on a tour of the hospital to look at potential sites for the installation piece I will be creating. I will need to do the same at Yeovil District Hospital in the coming weeks, too.

I am coming to the end of my research period and am now hunting for some specific feedback around how careers outside of the health profession manage the challenges of dementia, especially when the care being provided is for someone in the family such as a partner and this care is offered at home. More about this after my visit to Yeovil next week when I shall be meeting individuals who have direct experience of caring for loved ones with dementia.

The final compositional shape for the installation is gradually ‘solidifying’ in my mind’s eye and mind’s ear – it’s important for me to see and hear the ‘conceptual’ installation at this stage so I understand how to shape the content of the installation to fulfil the goals I have developed for the piece through this research period. Visiting the locations where the installation could be sited [such as the chapel in the previous blog] helps me to think of the piece in spatial terms and how the musical content can best be delivered in this context.

We had a look at a number of locations around the hospital.

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These all have potential, and there is scope for the installation to move around to different parts of the hospital, too.

My favorites are these two more complex intersecting stairways that sit on different levels. As well as acting as a thoroughfare and crossroads for a number of wards, these areas are rich because of the potential they offer for spatial location of the installation vertically on the different floor levels and also horizontally along the corridors.

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Permission must to be sought for the installation to be placed in any of these locations as there are a number of people who’s working or visitor / patient requirements for the space must be considered.

A sound installation can be less than enthusiastically received if it dominates a space or drives those who work in or near it to distraction. We need sympathetic hosts who are comfortable with the installation being present whilst being mindful of how the volume of the installation might effect those working in those installed areas.

How quiet can the installation be for it to work and be effective? In my view, an installation that whispers and quietly sings its content can be very effective and affecting. As Alex and I discussed this it became clear that the installation as envisaged would be completely flexible and installed as a whispering, ghostly shimera of sound, or, in another context, such as installed at a conference or arts event, much louder, creating a completely different experience for the audience. I like the idea of the work being adaptable as it increases the scope and possibilities for its continued and varied installation across widely differing locations and hosting needs.

I’d now like to introduce Dr Alex Murdin and the article he’s written about ReFound Sound and my role as composer-in-residence.

imageThe tie between music and memory is one that we are born with and die with. Neurologically, in very simple terms, processing music involves the functioning of at least two different brain networks, as well as invoking those associated with language (songs with lyrics), movement (moving to the rhythm) and its interweaving with other long term memories (the soundtrack of our lives, our celebrations and significant moments). So when some parts of the brain deteriorate as part of conditions like dementia, where the hippocampus responsible for short term memory is effected, music is often preserved as part of other brain function and is able to bring back important memories. So called “implicit musical memory”, which is the subconscious absorption of musical melodies, may be spared until very late stages of the disease (“Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease” (2015), Jacobsen et al. [Online: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/06/03/brain.awv135#ref-59]). Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care, puts it another way: “We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life, we know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”

It seemed very interesting to us (the Arts in Hospital producers at Dorchester and Yeovil Hospitals) to explore what musicians can do to help us to help those with dementia at our hospitals and in the wider community, as an ageing population means that there will be more and more with forms of cognitive impairment. Both hospitals had already worked together on music programmes before, bringing in live music to the wards with great effect, improving eating, sleep and levels of activity in patients, not to mention the sheer joy it brings – as one nurse said: “I’ve seen patients come alive in front of my eyes”. We therefore wanted to carry on with this work and also to spread the message to health professionals, care workers and carers that music is a powerful medicine. Hence the Arts Council, DCH Hospital Charity and Yeovil Council funded “Refound Sound”, a project which has commissioned more live music in wards and more unusually a composer in residence to write a new piece of music related to memory, music and place.

With the composer in residence we wanted to approach the idea as a research project. Not though in the way typical to the field of arts and health. For the most part those involved in arts and health have focussed on the scientific validation of art as having therapeutic value with direct causal outcomes, better sleep, less painkillers needed, quicker return home etc. (all of which are currently being proven in different fields of scientific research like the examples above). This is part of a burgeoning body of evidence designed to convince health commissioners to spend resources from mainstream health care budgets. With the commission for the composer in residence though we wanted to re-emphasise the innovative potential of the arts as an aesthetic practice, i.e. sensory, piece of research into a situation, context or environment through art in action. Perhaps the greatest thinker on health and society this century, Michel Foucault, describes the idea of forms of practice as research: “Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall.”

To this end the composer, Marc Yeats, was appointed as he has experimented with the limits of the affective potential of music on a wide spectrum in order to reconfigure simplistic binaries of beautiful/ugly, harmonious/discordant, wellbeing/illness etc. In this sense his musical practice is already a prefigurement of the condition of dementia which is a breakdown of brain functions which are applied to regulating normal social relations, judgements about environment, personal activities and day to day life. Our hope is therefore that the resulting work by Marc reaffirms an aesthetic approach to health and wellbeing as a valid research tool, with affective outcomes that nevertheless effectively move people in real ways to reconsider personal and professional approaches to treating and caring for those with dementia.

Dr Alex Murdin

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refound sound 1

[RESEARCH] 1

composer-in-residence to Yeovil District and Dorchester County Hospitals

Context and brief:
Re-found Sound is a new live music collaboration between Yeovil District Hospital Charity (YDHC) and Arts in Hospital at Dorset County Hospital (AiH), supported by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & the Wigmore Hall. The project runs from January 2016 to September 2016 and will:

• Commission an innovative musician in residence to work across the hospitals, researching and exploring the relationship of memory to place, resulting in a new piece of contemporary music for broadcast and performance.

The project is funded by Arts Council England, Dorset County Hospital Charity, Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and South Somerset District Council.

Residency and commission
YDH and AiH would therefore like to commission an innovative musician to research the relationship between music, memory and place and compose a response. We envisage a piece of music based on connections between:
• the environment, landscape and history connecting South Somerset and West Dorset
• hospitals as places in their own right, their architecture,surroundings and the communities that use the hospitals – patients, staff and visitors
• memories of place, memory-loss and the condition of dementia

Practically speaking we would like the commissioned musician to spend time at both hospitals, meeting staff involved in dementia work, patients themselves and people from other organisations who are familiar with Dorset and Somerset history and music as appropriate. There is the potential to provide space for activities to engage staff, patients or visitors at the hospitals (or facilitate engagement through other media e.g. hospital radio, newsletters etc.), but there is no studio space or music equipment available at this time.

We expect that there will be at least one opportunity for all musicians working through the other strands of Re-found Sound to meet together to share learning and experiences as part of the process. We wish to learn from the project process and to share this with others so there is also an expectation that the commissioned musician will keep a record of the project’s development, for example a diary, and participate in evaluation.

So, that was the brief. Now, onto . . . .

The challenge!

Writing a piece of music about Dementia – now, that really is a challenge. Where to start with such a huge topic? And, for a composer like me who believes that music doesn’t necessarily ‘say’ anything in a way that transmits and communicates clearly and consistently from one person to another, the opportunity to write a piece that is about, inspired by, informed by Dementia is perhaps the biggest compositional challenge I have ever faced, not least because it is such an important and emotive subject, a topic that will touch all our lives in one way or another at some time. This is BIG!

I have just completed my first few research sessions at Dorchester County Hospital and have come away a little clearer about what I can do creatively and what I can’t, certainly around methodology to gather content. As ever, I trust that the process of research and just thinking [informally, in the background] will make things clearer for me as I go along.

There’s art in the hospital in the most unexpected of places!

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But first to recap:
When I applied for this post I constructed a model around what I ‘might’ make and how I ‘might’ go about making it. This model was purely a structure to hook ideas onto so I had something to work with. The model was disposable, adaptable; my experiences in the past had taught me that predetermined plans always changed in these circumstances, sometimes radically. I could feel some aspects of my model quickly slipping away.

My starting point was this very model:
I have a great interest in composition commissions that draw upon researching unusual starting points and content that effect decisions influencing the compositional process and finished piece of music. Music is not an exact science and notions of quality and meaning remain fully subjective.

Composers are often asked about the meaning of their work and most resort to a description of process of making to answer the question. This is never a true reflection of what any piece of music means or its value to, or impact on any one person. Music that is based on research of the type proposed here has a number of pointers that can inform composer and audience of the reasons why choices around process and outcome were made and how these choices related to the subject being researched. Even with a strongly demonstrable research background, the composer’s and listener’s perceptions will involve levels of subjectivity and intuition around the best ways to communicate meaning, be that in a narrative or non-narrative context. This is the joy and mystery of music – we really have no idea what it is!

In the context of ‘refound sound’ where issues around the impact of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease on peoples lives is being researched, issues of memory, perception, relationships, loss and connectivity are paramount. These are also issues that concern a composer within the composition of a piece of music as well as the formation of assumptions around how an audience will respond to it. These correlations can be the subject of compositional research that has the potential to greatly effect the decisions a composer makes around the content for a piece of work and its presentation to audiences.

In short, the challenge and excitement of this brief is in discovering exactly what impact the residency and research will have upon my practice as a composer and how this will influence the outcome of that experience – the composition itself.

What am I proposing?

As I have not yet undertaken the research I cannot predict the ultimate shape of the finished work and even less so, the content that will populate it. At this stage I am building a concept around assumptions. This concept can be moderated, broken and replaced completely and I present it here as a model of thinking to approach this application and the residency. I do find an initial model useful as a way to think how the work could be presented and disseminated [practical considerations] and therefore provide an initial structure to work backwards from, helping focus methods for content creation based around the residency and research.

This newly commissioned work could be a sound installation with the potential to be located in any room or building within or outside a hospital setting. The research and residency period could see me interviewing people affected by and working with Dementia through sensitive, gentle and informal conversation. These conversations may be recorded or I may take written notes whilst conversing. Confidentiality will be respected at all times and any permissions necessary will be sort. These conversations will be participant led [they will disclose what they feel comfortable with – I will not pry with questions] and I will explain clearly and carefully what I am doing and why I am doing it. All content would remain anonymous.

Purbeck Ward - model of care!

Purbeck Ward – model of care!

This research would result in a series of interviews containing verbal or written information. I would sort through the material and select words or phrases that have [to me] a particular potency or resonance in relation to the the project brief [environment, spaces, memory, loss, history etc.]. It is these words and phrases that could become the vocal [or possibly verbal] content for the new piece. I may use professional singers, a choir or perhaps voice artists to deliver this material through music I would have composed with the content being sung, spoken or intoned]

Process:
Studio or live recordings of the singers or choir could be recorded as they perform fragments of my composition. I would then assemble these fragments into larger musical strands or tracks. Each track may be 15-20 minutes long and each a slightly different length. I would envisage 4-8 tracks. These tracks will then be ready to load onto mini mp3 players with their connected speakers. Each mp3 player and speaker can then be installed, secretively into any space, large or small to create the installation. The performance will involve playing all the tracks simultaneously [on continuous loop] resulting in unforeseen and serendipitous relationships between all the tracks. The resultant composition could be spatially exciting, beguiling, beautiful, reflective, surprising and engaging. These hidden voices will become part of the fabric of any space it is installed in.

Chapel and Dorchester County - possible installation site

Chapel and Dorchester County – possible installation site

view from the Chapel

view from the Chapel

Performance:
Music would be through-composed in its individual vocal tracks but asynchronous in its delivery leading to a richly varied and constantly renewing musical experience. A performance could last a few minutes to a few days and each installation and experience will be a unique iteration of the composition. The audience can drop in, stay, contemplate, pass through. There will be no obligation to sit through a traditional performance – people can wander through it and come and go as they please.

Dissemination:
As the material is digitally formatted it becomes an easy step to create fixed iterations of the installation by mixing a version within mixing software [which I have] leading to the preparation of tracks for radio broadcast and easy sharing on social media platforms to help engage the widest possible audiences in the output of the project. Again, tracks can be formatted to any length.

Additional relevance:
Asynchronous delivery of the composition as described above has an additional resonance in connection with the project brief around memory, loss, changing perspectives and contexts, landscapes [musical], experience and understanding as the constantly iterative nature of the delivery of the composition means it can never be known, there will be reoccurring familiar and recognisable aspects but the piece is always in flux as it permutates its content in ever changing contexts reflecting, perhaps, the changing nature of memory and perception associated with Dementia.

Back to the first research sessions at the hospital:

So, that was the model – a concept for a piece and a bunch of techniques around how to achieve it. Luckily, enough of the model survived after my first visit to Dorchester County Hospitla for me not to feel totally crestfallen. Yes, it was going to be a work using the human voice, a choral piece. Yes, it was going to be an installation piece; dissemination and performance aspects were as yet unchanged. However, what had radically altered were the methods I was going to use to generate the content for this piece – that route was now closed to me.

Challenges around confidentiality and consent:
I had hoped to be able to record conversations with patients, families, careers, medical staff etc., on my iPhone, not to use as recordings within the piece but to listen to, post interviews, so I could copy down the occasional snippet, phrase or remark that I thought had mileage within the piece – sort of poetic fragments that I happened upon. I thought too that I may be able to take some photographs of hands to capture something of various peoples characters anonymously.

Both photographs of hands and recording conversations with various parties proved to be impossible because of safeguarding regulations, permissions and consents. As you can imagine, gaining informed consent from people who are confused is impossible and a legal minefield.

Purbeck Ward

Purbeck Ward

So that was that. My idea of getting verbal content straight from the horse’s mouth was no longer tenable. I should have known really; the regulations around permissions of this sort are complex and rightly so when peoples’ identities, families and friends can all be implicated in unforeseen ways. Best to avoid the need for consent entirely.

The complications around consent became very clear to me after my morning conversation with Alex Murdin, Arts in Hospital coordinator at Dorchester. I had to think on my feet as my research sessions were about to start. I needed to know how I was going to collect information so I could capture anything valuable I found for the piece without contravening permissions and confidentialities. It was whilst we were talking around this challenge that I had a light bulb moment based on a seedling idea I had a few days ago whilst brain-idling.

Possible solutions?
It occurred to me that like a storyteller, I would listen and perhaps write down the odd comment; or not, and absorb what was being said; the intent, emotional weight and content, as someone who was telling another person a story of what they had seen or experienced. Rather than collecting material ‘in the first person’, I would come away from my research sessions and regurgitate what had stuck in my mind, the impressions and phrases as best I could remember. If I embroidered or exaggerated or invented a little, it didn’t matter. This wasn’t a news real or a work of science; I wasn’t trying to reconstruct a work of fact; how could I? – this is music; it can only mean what the audience bring to it no matter what I put into it. However, the words and phrases could carry a great deal of weight if sufficiently resonant. It’s ‘golden nuggets’ such as these I’ll be on the lookout for.

One of the nursing staff told me of a short phrase that was uttered to her over and over again by a patient. The phrase stayed with her. It stayed with me too!

“I was locked in a cupboard.”

A little phrase with a huge, complex resonance. This will become one of my ‘golden nuggets’.

After speaking to the staff at Dorchester County Hospital on a range of wards and also seeing activities designed to help engage people with Dementia with their own memories, lives and surroundings it is apparent just how much dedication, humanity, compassion and professionalism is offered to patients by the teams who look after their wellbeing. All members of staff are undergoing constant training and support to understand how best to care for people who are confused or suffering from Dementia. Exact diagnosis and aetiology isn’t always clear to establish but the sensitivity with which any person entering the hospital is met, especially those who are frail and confused, is excellent and well thought through.

On certain wards the decor has been changed to make the hospital a less daunting environment, wards and bed-bays have been colour coded with specially commissioned artwork to break up the uniformity of the ward layout with more personalised and attractive spaces. On wards specialising in the care of the elderly the nursing stations have been redesigned and sometimes moved to create more open, social and comfortable spaces for patients and relatives to meet.

reception area Barnes Ward

reception area Barnes Ward

reception area Barnes Ward

reception area Barnes Ward

All in all a lot of thought has gone into the hospital environment to make it as friendly and unintimidating to confused patients as possible.

Colour-coded Purbeck Ward

Colour-coded Purbeck Ward

I was particularly taken by the Day Room on Barnes ward where older objects, clocks, fireplaces and radios had been brought into create more familiar and age appropriate spaces for elderly people who are more comfortable in surroundings that reflect or connect with their lives and experiences. The Day Room is also an area that is used for various activities such as music making, listening, conversation and crafts.

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Day Room Barnes Ward

Patients who are confused or have Dementia generally enter the hospital via Accident and Emergency departments because of trauma [broken bones after falls, for example] or medical reasons such as infections and illness. Their confusion is a secondary consideration that brings with it further challenges for the medical staff caring for them over and above the primary condition. Patients coming into hospitals may experience many degrees of confusion and it is true to say that entering the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital environment away from personal routines and familiar surroundings can exacerbate any sense of confusion someone may already have. People with Dementia on trauma and medial wards are frequently with other patients of all age with similar primary conditions [trauma or medical]. Here, the nursing staff skilfully provide a full, personally tailored and considered care plan for everyone on their wards. Being able to manage such varied and challenging needs with such good spirit is a true testament to the calibre of people working on the wards. One thing was clear from the outset; these wards are happy places where staff are well motivated and engaged at the highest level with their work and the wellbeing of others.

Andy Miller [Service Manager for Elderly Care] and Kelly Spaven [Matron for Medicine]

Andy Miller [Service Manager for Elderly Care] and Kelly Spaven [Matron for Medicine]

Sister Debbie Baxter

Sister Debbie Baxter

Sister Susan Montgomery and Deputy Sister Karen Baylis [Purbeck Ward]

Sister Susan Montgomery and Deputy Sister Karen Baylis [Purbeck Ward]

Ideas of structure and anonymising information:
I have already mentioned using myself as a collector of anecdotes and pieces of information that I hear and writing these down ‘after the fact’ as third party observations to use as content for vocalisations in my piece.

Additionally I have had the idea of collecting first names and surnames [and mixing these up] or even made up, to create lists of imaginary people, to do the same with occupations and ages, places where people live, a few medical terms, a range of anecdotes and phrases and so on to create this sort of ‘hive mind’ of people and experiences.

I can see [hear] these as being different trains of though all brought together at the same time and interacting with each other to create an ever varied world or people and experiences all related to Dementia.

Why am I thinking like this?

Because I realise that Dementia is something that touches and will touch all of us, that it is no respecter of class, religion, faith, occupation, lifestyle, experience or race. That is can effect young people as well as older people, that it is, in fact, everyone’s condition – it is human-wide. To reflect that I want to create a piece that includes all voices, all names, all occupations and so on, to make it feel universal and relevant to everyone.

Additionally, and going back to my original thoughts, I would like the way these various strands of musical activity interact asynchronously with each other to in some way affect those who experience the installation – to make them feel a little bewildered, out of context, surrounded by an environment where nothing remains the same and perceptions are challenged and where the content is poignant and resonant causing reflection and awareness around the human condition that exists within and around Dementia.

mindmap - soundmap

mindmap – soundmap

That’s a pretty ambitious goal to have!

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COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [2a Lymington salt marshes]

Residency 2: Lymington Salt Marshes 12th.- 16th. August 2015

 

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DAY 1

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The Lymington Salt Marshes were, in some ways at least, what I expected to see in a low-lying coastal hinterland that was a cross between natural salt marsh and a managed, drained coastal wetland. This was an entirely man-made landscape – in fact, a post-industrial hinterland between the Solent and New Forest, glorious in former times for its salt production through the evaporation of seawater. It is what remains of these industrial workings that gives this landscape its distinctive feel, structure and ambience.

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The area itself is bounded between the Solent and across from that, the Isle of White, and to the north, a little inland, the rising contour of the New Forest.

The Observatory buildings were situated on the sea wall about five minutes from the nearest road access at Eight Acre Pond, a spectacular position affording 360º views across the area. The sea wall is regularly walked and part of the Solent Way; additionally, Lymington is a holiday destination for many resulting in a huge footfall from passers by around the Observatory buildings exploring these much-loved walks. I had just arrived on site, unpacking and settling in and found myself immediately inundated with passers by investigating the buildings, looking in and wanting to talk. I’ve never experienced such an instantaneous level of engagement from the public in an arts project. Naturally, the Observatory structures were a new and notable addition to this otherwise flat landscape due to their scale and their position directly to one side of the coastal path. They were not easy to overlook. I spent the first 40 minutes in the Observatory talking to passers by who were interested in who I was, what I was doing there and what the project was about. I must have spoken to about 20 different people in that short time!

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This was all very well and good but I really wanted to explore and get a feel for the general area: talking to people wasn’t going to achieve that. I was also mindful that the weather report for the next few days was for torrential rain and thunderstorms and I only had five days to complete my research for the work that was to come. My first day on-site was sunny so I needed to get out and make the most of it.

Mark Drury of SPUD told me about a little private beach on the Solent that was about 10 minutes walk from the Observatory buildings so I headed for that, walking across the salt marshes to reach it.

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I liked this little beach – it was unusual inasmuch as it was formed in a man-made curvature of the coastal defences in the sea wall where, over time, shingle and shells had built up to colonise the curve. The rest of this coastline was either seawall with a 30º incline towards the sea or slat marsh, mud or shingle – but none of it particularly suitable to just sit on in the traditional beach fashion. Additionally, the indentation in the sea wall had caused a few shingle banks to form just slightly offshore from the beach itself that encouraged the most hypnotic dance of cross-currents and tidal eddies that were always in motion at the various states of the tide. The surges of water driven through the narrow channel of the Solent with each rise and fall of the tide were fast and powerful making the little beach feel very static in comparison.

Onwards I ventured to the endpoint of my walk today – to the small harbour-like inlet of Keyhaven – pretty, sheltered and full of yachts – and visitors, it made a natural barrier to end the salt marshes, snuggling as it does under the huge shingle arm of Hurst Spit – gatekeeper to the west Solent. The distance between the Observatory buildings and Keyhaven along the coast path was about 3.5 – 4 miles. This walk took in virtually the entire length of the slat marsh area and was a great introduction to the overall structure and fee of the place. I walked back to the Observatory from Keyhaven along a different route to understand the salt marshes from a different perspective.

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Upon arriving back and opening up the studio Observatory I was again inundated with people so spent the best part of an hour talking to passers by. It was great to have so may people interested in what was going on and I could have talked non-stop for some considerable time, but, I needed to some head space to digest and reflect upon what I had seen today and how this would influence my approach to future site-specific work based on these experiences.

I headed of for the little beach and some quiet time. I also produced a few ‘summation’ sketches that caught the sites and sounds I had experienced in the simplest, fastest way possible.

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Day 1 was completed. I headed back ‘commuted’ to Boscombe where my friend Victoria had allowed me to stay in her house while she was away. The journey took an hour and the traffic was always bad. After the walking and the traffic I was exhausted so bought some food, watched TV, edited my photos from the day, posted on social media and went to bed.

DAY 2

IMG_7340As predicted, day two was wet – very wet. Mercifully the alarmist forecasts for rampant thunderstorms were not fulfilled. I heard only two distant rumbles. That was it. I was relieved; I had misgivings about being hauled up in the largest, tallest structure around in a radius of about half a mile of a very flat and exposed landscape, sporting a small metal chimney and standing on a very large metal base, in a biblical thunderstorm. So I mostly sat inside with the door open, looking out and listening to the sounds of rain falling on the sea, falling on the building and falling onto the ground and the salt marsh lakes; all rather beautiful and delicate. Visitor numbers were understandably down so I was mainly alone apart from the occasional ardent and suitably attired dog-walker who stopped by. The open Observatory building was used very much as a rain shelter by walkers and provided some very welcome protection.

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The rain eased off later in the afternoon. I felt a little cabin feverish having been in the Observatory for some hours so ventured to the little beach once again and sat there, cogitated further and sketched a little.

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Day 2 was complete. The softness that descended on the landscape through the rain and low cloud muffled sounds, created strange and distant echo’s for seabird-cries and passing ships and made the salt marshes feel contained, close and claustrophobic; a haunting and private world very different from my bright and breezy arrival.

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String quartet sketch – incomplete

 

DAY 3

IMG_7387Torrential rain all night in Boscombe; I thought I was in for a very wet day with little opportunity for exploring. Mercifully, by the time I arrived in Lymington at the Observatory buildings the rain had virtually stopped. It was touch and go whether the dry phase would hold or not but I decided to take a chance and walk out to Hurst Castle, across the 1.5 mile gravel spit that runs between Keyhaven and Milford-on-sea out into the Solent and toward the Isle of Wight. I drove to Keyhaven and walked from there to the castle with my trusty cagoule and compact umbrella, just in case I got caught in a downpour. As it happened, the weather remained dry throughout.

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The walking was arduous as only walking on gravel can be. The journey from one end of the spit to the other seemed endless and although my legs were working well I seemed to be walking forwards but going nowhere. The views from the spit were good as it was well elevated above the Keyhaven marshes and the Solent. On my right [on the walk out] I could see the rampant, unrelenting, soulless and hideous development along the south coast stretching from Milford-on-Sea away towards Highcliffe and Bournemouth with cliff-top building dating from the 40s, 50s, and 60s to recent times and on my left, the complex interplay of slat marshes, sea walls and New Forest hinterland beyond – heavily populated with yachts and small boating craft but largely devoid of significant building development. The contrast between the two couldn’t have been more marked. It set a wider context for me to comprehend the salt marshes around Keyhaven and Lymington.

On my way out to Hurst Castle I passed by the yacht park to the west of Keyhaven. Here, the rigging of the many ‘parked’ vessels was rattling, banging, tinkling and generally thrashing about in the breeze making the most wonderful sounds – really musical sounds with varied pitches, multi-layered rhythms, whistlings and hums all rather like the composer Ligeti’s mechanisms but without the musical refinement – the sounds were accelerated in speed and pitch according to the wind speed and gust strength. The aural results were quietly symphonic and certainly sparked off [and consolidated] a whole range of ideas that had been in my head about the new string quartet, its structures and sounds. I had already sketched out some structural ideas for composition in day 1 – 3 along with some ideas of contextual sounds but there were gaps in this thinking. The journey past the yacht club here in Keyhaven had filled in the gap!

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Hurst Castle was a very interesting structure [I only explored it externally] but I was more drawn to the natural spit it was built upon and the desolate landscape this shingle and sea shaped world had constructed, especially around the lighthouse and lighthouse keepers cottages. It reminded me a little of the beautiful and unique bleakness of the Dungeness beach area of Kent.

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Of particular interest was the graffiti I discovered on the lower walls of a few parts of the castle that were scraped into the soft concrete plastering here and there on the west facing walls [the rest of the castle was constructed with a very hard granite, unsuitable for such scratch-writing] and finding these layers of mark-making beautiful to look at and entertaining to read. A bit like a dog pissing on a lamppost, people had obviously felt the need to mark the spot or their time here in this ‘permanent’ way, year upon year creating many layers of comment and memory.

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I took a lot of photos of theses surfaces – very inspirational – by not for this project as they were a little outside the experience of the saltmarsh site-specific area I was looking to work within.

I undertook the long walk back to Keyhaven. I then drove into Lymington. By this time the rain had largely returned. I was in Lymington to explore venues for the premiere of both year one string quartets in the early spring of 2016. I settled upon St. Thomas’ Church in Lymington as a good venue. The first string quartet from this Observatory series, ‘ovington down’ is complete – the next quartet based on my experiences on residency here, yet to be conceived and written.

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I returned to the Observatory for a few hours – spoke to some passers by and then went to my [I now felt a sense of ownership] little beach for a few sketches and quiet thoughts and to make my video diary. The rain had eased off again pretty much so I went on my first walk east along the sea wall towards Lymington itself [as opposed to west towards Keyhaven]. The salt marshes are not so impressive in this area and the further one walks east from the Observatory buildings the closer one gets to Lymington and civilisation, but I was pleased to have now walked the entire length of the salt marshes and sea wall.

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I completed a lot of walking that day despite the weather being so changeable and was ready to face the traffic and drive back to Boscombe to eat, rest and sleep.

DAY 4

The sun came out! The warmth and brightness was a welcome change to the previous few days of gloomy light levels and repressed activity on the salt marshes so I resolved to stay outside as much as possible. I paid my morning visit to the Observatory building, met a range of people who were passing by and had a number of interesting conversations. I then moved to my little beach, as I wanted to think or at least draw some conclusion to a few questions I had been asking myself. As the weather was good I was not alone at the beach but no one knew who I was so I could inhabit my own space whilst being among others.

The questions I wanted to answer were:

What is so different about this particular landscape to the rolling chalk downland around Winchester?

and

What are the unique and defining forces and structures that combine to give this landscape its identity, function and ambience?

These may seem obvious and easy questions to answer but a true understanding of the differences would lead to a fundamentally different outcome in the work I would produce for Lymington in comparison to Winchester. For me, part of the measure of success for this residency series is to create work that within my comprehension at least, is truly site-specific. The simple questions – the obvious questions and conclusions can often be overlooked by more superficial distractions that while symptomatic of the various residency locations will not address the causation of those distinctions.

I have answered these questions in my day 4 and 5 video diaries, but in short, I realised that the dynamic between the still managed waters of the salt marshes was in direct opposition to the tidal and dynamic movement of the Solent itself and although these waterways were connected by an intricate drainage and water control system, the salt marshes were places of complete stillness and the Solent a place of complete movement – and all of this separated from each other by the merest slither of a sea wall, a membrane that separated two dynamically opposed systems, the co-existence of which is the unique environment of the salt marshes.

And the second question of difference – perhaps more to do with the assimilation of an area is related to the confined nature of the salt marshes [it is a relatively small, defined area between the Solent, Lymington and Keyhaven sea walls and slightly higher ground inland] and the unbounded nature of the chalk downland around Winchester that stretched out across the huge area of the South Downs National Park for many miles. Exploring the salt marshes and acquiring a mental map of their structure was a more readily assimilated task then the same for the chalk uplands of Hampshire. Consequently, my sense of getting to know the salt marsh area formed more quickly than the chalk downland as it was clear where the boundaries of this experience existed.

Day 5

A warm and sunny day.
I enacted my usual routine of heading to the Observatory, opening up for a while and chatting to people then moving away to my beach for final thoughts and reflection on my time at the Observatory.

The conclusions expressed in Day 4 were really formed across the whole residency period. It’s difficult to surgically excise particular thought processes, conclusions and realisations into a daily dissection and appropriately allocate a time-line to those events. The process is organic and evolutionary. Thoughts, notions and ideas are with one all the time and come to the fore or recess accordingly as experience is acquired to reinforce or make redundant such notions.

The experience of being on residency and the ‘opening up’ that is necessitated to fully absorb the experience means that no preconceptions can be held as sacred and everything is up for grabs. There is an intimacy in this process; a deep communication between self and environment. When it is complete it is time to leave. That time is now.

MKY 19.08.2015

 

 

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COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [1b WINCHESTER SCIENCE CENTRE]

Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
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Observatory W3

 

I started with the music. Somehow, I felt this the greatest challenge of the two – of painting and composition.

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My imagination was full of impressions and ideas following the residency and I had a large collection of photographs, sketches and videos to draw upon [see Composer-in-Residence to the Observatory 1a]. These were external things – props, if you like – physical outcomes of my research into the site. Alongside these items was a vast soup of internal impressions, noises and intentions – all swimming around in my imagination like a bag of frogs, wriggling and seething and very difficult to hold onto. Together they comprised the evidence that I had experienced the wonderful chalk landscapes around Winchester but the prospect of starting a string quartet from scratch based upon these impressions – breaking the silence of the page with my little marks, dots and lines was a daunting prospect. Bringing something out of nothing always is.

My approach is to break my way in – charge through the door with bluster and see what happens on the other side. It’s a way of breaking the ice – and the fear!
With painting I just throw stuff about with abandon and masses of kinetic energy in the hope that something will emerge. Invariably it does, as this almost violent act serves to break the virginity of the page and take away its power to immobilise; you can stare at the page or manuscript and feel intimidated by its whiteness or emptiness. It takes a mighty leap of faith to start.

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I take the same view to starting a piece of music, but it’s not so easy to just throw stuff around spontaneously when you’re dealing with notes. Some of my sketches from the residency were precursors to scores, undoubtedly, but they were not the final notation – they remained as frozen kinetics, sound suspended in line, and this sound needed to be reformatted into a more standardised notation to serve my purposes, a process that takes time and unfortunately, time is the enemy of spontaneity – deliberation kills it.

My paintings are all about spontaneity, their surfaces and mark-making reflect this and it is this roughness and speed of mark-making and design through assimilation that imbues them with whatever dynamic qualities they posses.

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I have two methods that I hope enable me to develop spontaneity in my compositions baring in mind the limitations around real-time kinetic and gestural capture [I can’t notate as fast as I think but I can draw and paint very fast as there is a direct relationship between my thoughts, translation into movement on paper and the end result of the painting. For music this may apply in forms of graphic notation, which are repurposed forms of drawing, but for more standard forms of notation there is a degree of meticulous scribing that destroys spontaneity of gesture].

I labour this point because my remedy has led me to approach composition in very particular ways.

There are two aspects [at the very least] to the character of a finished piece of music as well as the way it is perceived by performer and audience, again from different perspectives; one is the ‘look and feel’ of the notation itself – what’s on the page, how it was put together, the sounds the notation implies etc., and the manner in which the music is performed or delivered to the listener. It is the combination of these two factors that combine to create the nature of the finished piece. Concept, notation and delivery become the same thing in aural terms – it’s the stuff we listen to! There is of course a whole other layer on top of this around how the music is perceived by the listener, but such reactions are way beyond my control – they remain the responsibility of the listener, so I will leave that well alone.

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So, what are these two approaches I use to try and imbue spontaneity into my music?

The first involves me building any new pieces out of materials I already have – a found object is as good a term as any. This found object can be for any other instrument[s] and be a solo or ensemble piece. It is almost always a completed piece [as opposed to a sketch]. I choose the pre-existing piece I feel has some of the qualities I’m looking for in the new music I want to create. I then take that material and build onto it, destroy areas of it, distort it, lengthen, shorten, randomise pitches, cut up, amalgamate and mix up the original structures. I execute this process as quickly as I can. I don’t want to think or calculate outcomes at this stage – I’m trying to remove certain aspects of my decision making to allow chance and speed into the process [like the painting and drawing, I am hacking my way through material in a process of assimilation trusting that the rough edges I produce will bring a freshness, unpredictability and kinetic mobility to the notation].

Throwing around this found object material ensures that I very quickly get over the blank page syndrome as the page is immediately covered with notation. My processes of transformation move the material I am working away from the original although there is invariably a genetic ghost remaining of the former piece. I don’t mind this at all – it brings a consistency of voice to my compositions, as they are all linked in real terms no matter how destructive the transformative process is. In rather loose terms, this process is a form of transduction – the changing of material from one state to another. I rather like the idea of being a notational alchemist as the processes I use at this stage are intuitive, responsive and reactionary.

Once I have generated new material and in the case of a string quartet, I take individual lines of music and start to work on those.

This brings me onto the second method I use to engender spontaneity in my work that involves notation and notational process but is even more concerned with performance and delivery techniques – asynchronicity.

The first part of this process involves working up the material for all four instruments of the quartet in isolation and without reference to each other using the material as comes out of the first-stage process. I do this because I want each instrumental voice to feel like an independent entity with its own nature, dynamic, gestural and structural logic and strategic role to play. I don’t view these individual instruments as playing a supporting role in any harmonic sense to any other instrument – such supporting as arises is incidental and a perceived relationship by the listener rather than an intentioned one [in most instances, at least].

Each part has independent tempi, different bar structures and material occurring at different times. All of these ingredients will run similarly through all four parts but not necessarily simultaneously in real time when the parts are stacked vertically in performance.

This brings me onto an interesting outcome. As the four instrumental parts of the quartet are running at different speeds to each other [this is why the music is asynchronous] I cannot and do not produce scores, that is, I do not attempt to display the vertical alignment of materials in a printed, notational format as it would be a lie, it would attempt to fix something on the page that is not intended to be [so] fixed in real life and real time. A score, whilst being very pretty and very complicated to look at would give the wrong psychological message about what the music is and how it should be approached in performance and sound. A vertical score at some level implies fixed elements – totally fixed, even if the score attempts to mitigate against this using different devices and explanations – the reader will still approach it as a vertically aligned concept which they then have to break to get an impression of what’s really intended. For me this is a bit like putting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work and should be avoided. So, I avoid it. No score.

There is a consequence to this. As there is no score, no one knows what the piece is like. It cannot be presented in standard terms to be read. The music exists in parts only. These are fully notated, but an understanding of what the music is, as a total sound concept can only be realised in performance – that’s when it reveals itself to the listeners [and performers who up until that point of coming together only have the perspective of their own part without contextual reference to a ‘total’ score of the piece they are playing in].

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It’s easy to think that the asynchronous nature of this music could result in a total free-for-all, but it doesn’t as I use a cunning device to hold everything flexibly together, structurally, the way I want it to be. Time-code.

Time code is synchronised at the beginning of the piece by each player, all starting at 0.00” on their mobile phone stopwatch apps and runs through each part and acts as a net to prevent temporal drift throughout the piece.

What’s temporal drift? Temporal drift is a term I have developed to describe what occurs when performers imagine the various tempi markings of their music a little incorrectly – too fast or too slow – which, over the duration of the performance of the piece can cause the intended structures of the music to drift apart and change the musical outcomes dramatically due to the accumulation of slower or faster playing. The time code runs in seconds and is in every bar of music in each part. The time code acts as a check to the player’s position in the music at any given point and allows them to reference where they should be in accordance to the time code and adjust their tempi accordingly, speeding up or slowing down to be in approximately the right place at the right time along with everyone else. The time code is not a click track nor is it a straight jacket. First and foremost tempi are intended to be interpreted, to be felt, and the resultant human error is built in as an outcome to the asynchronous nature of the music; the time code just prevents the major temporal drift I referred to earlier.

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So why am I bothered about structure if it’s all asynchronous and the processes I have mentioned previously seem to work against fixed structures?

The final stage when I bring all the lines that have been created independently together, is to work with them through another process of assimilation and see what I find, what the connections and contradictions are [both potentially good], what I want to keep, what I want to modify, highlight, recess etc., and undergo the final stages of sculpting the notation [sound] to what I want. It is in this final stage that I work with all layers of the materials as a vertical concept for the first time. It’s like the big reveal!

The beauty of using the materials that have been created through these processes is that they maintain their found object status, they rub up against each other in ways I hadn’t predicted and present me with a rich array of options and choices with what to keep or throw out, with the spontaneity and unpredictability, kinetic freedom, gestural fluidity inherent in the material and the combinations of material largely intact – at least I hope so – and, add to this the flexibility in performance and the constant variables of ideas aligning in somewhat different ways with each iteration of the music and you can see that the idea of spontaneity pervades the methods of building the music and as well as its execution through performance.

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So now, full circle – back to the landscape. How have I managed to capture what I set out to in this music; the open landscapes, the sights and sounds, the structures, the very ambience of the places I visited? How is it site-specific?

The simple answer is I don’t know!

I have selected motivic shapes, gestures and kinetic qualities I observed and sketched and translated these into notation – I have been mindful of qualities of sound-environments’ I listened to when out on the chalk – I am aware of that intuitive reaction to place that we describe as ambience, but has all or any of this gone into the music?

There is no way to copy what we see with our eyes directly into music – to make a literal transformation that actually represents one to the other. And even if there were, there’s absolutely no guarantee that any two people would read the same messages from the music, such is the diversity of our perceptions and processing.

This music has no narrative – it tells no story – has no climax, no melody and harmony in the usual sense [neither does a landscape – any such qualities are things we impose upon the land; the land ‘just is!

And so it is with this string quartet, observation one [ovington down] – it is what it is.

For me as creator of the quartet I can hear, intuit and relive certain aspects of what I experienced on my residency – sort of – there’s also a whole lot more that I just can’t fix in words. Additionally, my perceptions of the piece are now formed around a degree of familiarity with it [as I wrote it] but that doesn’t mean to say the quartet will relate or convey a sense of the chalk landscape for anyone else, most certainly not if they know nothing of the work’s title or origin and it certainly doesn’t make reference to embedded and familiar types of landscape music cliches now culturally accepted by those familiar with the idiom. You may hear larks, bird song; sense the open plains, the tumult of clouds running around the escarpments, the luminescence of sky-blue pungently counterpointed by the white of the chalk – the vistas, perspectives – the movement of air. If you do, that’s great – you’ve brought your story and I have succeeded in facilitating that process.

As with all music, what you hear is up to you, the listener.

And to round off, a little about the paintings.

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All the paintings featured here are acrylic on paper, 59.4 x 42.0cm or 23.39 x 16.53 inches [unmounted] and were created in July 2015.

So much of what I have said above about the spontaneity of the process of assimilation, found objects, kinetic and gestural outbursts in composition applies to my approach to painting.

Of course, painting is a 2D process and is not temporal so is very different to composition – and, unlike my asynchronous music that is only revealed when it is performed, across time, the paintings are visible in their entirety and immediacy with all relationships ‘graspable’ from the very first brushstroke and initial mark-making to the last.

These paintings have no linear narrative, they contain many elements of experience all presented simultaneously to the viewer – they are a composite of all my sensual and emotional experiences offered at once, intuitively translated through gesture onto paper – a summation of many places, many times and many feelings presented superimposed, one onto the other in each painting.

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The paintings are a subjective reaction to the places I visited and simultaneously, a subjective reaction to the actual surfaces I have created whilst engaged in the act of painting – of making, so much so that the painting becomes the thing – the experience – as it moves further and further away from the actual physical location. My relationship with the painting deepens as I search for a resonance within it that echoes something of my experiences on the residency. The picture is finished [I stop the process of assimilation] when I detect an ambience within it that connects me to the original experience [a wholly intuitive process] and when the physical structure of the painting; colour, form, texture, dynamic etc., reach a point that feels suitably balanced [be it a balance of equality or a balance of inequality]. These judgements are once again instinctual but founded in years of experience that has contributed to, and is currently developing a particular aesthetic.

There is of course no literal relationship between any of this work and the locations I visited, nor should there be; a place is a place, a painting a painting – they are radically different things. As for the music, you will have to form your own opinions about it when it is performed and recorded and you have listened.

The paintings are here to see.

The rest is up to you!

MKY 23.07.2015

 

 

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Composer-in-residence to the observatory [1a Winchester Science Centre]

Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
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What an amazing five days I have had at the Observatory. Located within the grounds of Winchester Science Centre, facing south and overlooking the rolling landscape of the South Downs National Park, the Observatory buildings occupied a quiet oasis of calm away from the exuberant business and noise of the Science Centre, full of young, excited children [and adults] learning about the world around them on the centre’s displays and interactive installations and gadgets. The acoustics within the Science Centre were akin to that of a huge swimming pool filled with voices, laughter, shouts and hyperactivity; all this contained within the huge pyramidal building and separated from the Observatory by glass and aluminium doors. To the south of the Observatory were a number of very busy main roads. These roads ran below [though out of sight] and across the hills within line-of-sight, contributing a continuous traffic hum that varied in intensity according to the time of day. At times it was so loud you could not hear the sounds of birds twittering from the neighbouring trees.

The Observatory buildings themselves are quite beautiful – not large, by any means, but intimate and intricate. I had the pleasure of sharing the space [whilst I was in the structure] with the very lovely artist in residence, Isabella Martin who’s conversation enriched my experience a great deal as we shared ideas and experiences.

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One of the joys of this residency is its openness to allow the artist to develop work without a preconceived idea of particular outcomes. This lack of pressure to ‘deliver’ to a plan enables a genuine relationship with the environment to grow so that the artist, me in this case, can luxuriate in the opportunity to wander around, look and listen, explore and research all manner of things related to the experience and location. By implication, all sensate experiences and thought are game for inclusion in a finished piece of work. The challenge, among others, is to experience, distill and make choices about what to include and what to exclude from any finished work, a difficult process when there is just so much, so many perspectives to choose from – I knew I was going to write a string quartet [the first of four, one from each of the residencies] and a series of paintings, all site-specifically informed but the rest was a mystery.

Day 1

Day 1 saw me spending most of my time in the Observatory building, acclimating myself to the surroundings and going on a few very close by walks. The weather was not good – cold and showery and very windy. I spent some time talking to Isabella about her working process and planning where to walk on day 2. Isabella had commented on how dangerous it was to walk from the Science Centre onto the footpaths south into the countryside because of the very fast and noisy traffic and because the footpaths had no access without walking along and crossing these very busy roads. I decided to avoid this and drive a little way south, park the car and then walk, avoiding the trauma of the traffic and the noise and getting to experience what I wanted to see – the chalk plateau and download. I only had five days on location so my time was precious. I needed to focus on what was important for my research and go do it!

By the end of Day 1 had had made a few pencil sketches to capture thoughts, sights and sounds on paper as spontaneously as I could.

and a picture of some of Isabella’s work in the Observatory:

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And my drawings:

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I had managed to find cheap overnight accommodation at the ‘Days Inn’, a motel in the Winchester North Services area, southbound M3. It was clean, I had a family room to myself [3 beds; 1 double and 2 singles], my own bath and toilet, tea and coffee making facilities and a flat screen TV. One minute from the motel was the food mall. Mercifully there was an M&S on the premises so I could get decent fresh food to eat. This would become my ‘home’ for the next 5 days.

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Day 2

Walkies time. I drove to a carpark about 4 minutes south from the Science Centre to explore Fawley Down.

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The walk was magnificent. The panoramas wide. From here I could see southwest across to the Solent, the Isle of White and the New Forest. The weather was turbulent, heavy and frequent showers blown along by a keen, cool northwesterly gale.

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I was very lucky, the showers passed to the north and south of where I was walking. They passed in bands creating amazing, atmospheric and rapidly changing plays of light on the land.

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I eventually found a path that turned down into a small valley, away from the high plateau. There were trees and shelter. I could hear the birds; the sun was out and it felt warm and protected. This was a great spot to make my first iPhone video diary:

 
Upon my return to the Observatory I decided to make some more sketches to capture the day’s experiences as spontaneously as possible, almost without any thought at all. I knew these sketches would inform later work with painting and of course, composition:

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Day 3

More walking, this time a little further afield. I wanted to experience some of the more immediately dramatic chalk landscapes Hampshire had to offer, the wild chalk escarpments. After looking at the map and studying contours to find where the best confluence of escarpments could be found, I settled for the area around Old Winchester Hill, south east of the Science Centre. The weather was still showery but the wind had dropped somewhat. I walked around Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve and further south and east into the chalk valleys.

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After walking through an enchanting [and enchanted] woodland full of Cow Parsley magically illuminated by dappled sunlight, I moved from the higher plateau area to an escarpment edge that overlooked a magnificent vista with a view of the opposite escarpments stretching away towards Petersfield and as far as the eye could see into the high ground of Sussex. I sat and looked out from this majestic vantage point, had my lunch, smoked a rollie, gathered my thoughts and made my iPhone video diary for Day 3 , then completed some sketching.

It rained.

 

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I also visited the very characterful old village of East Meon and walked around some of the voluptuous hills there. The weather had improved and it became quite warm.

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Day 4

Day 4 saw yet more walking. I returned to an area closer to the Science Centre, Ovington Down and Gander down to the south east not far beyond day two’s walks but bearing south east as opposed to south west – a very different prospect for topography, light and vista. I also walked to the village of Cheriton, near the source of the luminous, trout-filled Itchen, then, following the Itchen way to Tichborne and back in a large circular route. I was back on the chalk’s open, rolling plateau and its gentle valleys and streams.

These days of walking were long but so enjoyable. The luxury of being able to explore with nothing but the land and one’s thoughts for company gave time to connect to the area, to absorb its ambience and structures, sights, smells and sounds. I haven’t before been on any kind of residency and certainly not one as a composer where I have the time to just be, to think without pressure. I found it most therapeutic, as if with each passing day the ‘compressions’ of daily life were slowly lifted and I could expand into the space around me. I write so much music from week to week – every day, and have frenetic spells of painting, too; I’m always doing and making, always thinking about the next project, the next piece of music, organising, planning and thinking ahead. I felt truly in the moment here, perhaps for the first time since I was last in Suffolk on holiday with my partner, staying with composer Gordon Crosse in August 2014. Only there, across a week of slow paced living have I felt that same sense of growth and freedom. I love it!

Having said that, I was aware that there was much effort and consolidation to follow with regard to creating new work and that my time here was spent like a sponge, absorbing everything, thinking about it but allowing myself not to draw any conclusion or more to the point, race to any conclusion. I could feel myself filling up with ideas, impressions and glimpses almost as if what I was aiming for; the paintings and the string quartet could be seen and heard from afar, like a shimira, almost within touching distance, but not quite. Tantalising!

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I summarise my feelings in the Day 4 iPhone video diary – rounding things up on my penultimate day. I ask myself some big questions to which, as yet, I have no answers.

After making the video diary I distilled my thoughts in the now familiar way; through sketches that were this time, unconsciously more heavily landscape influenced than before – perhaps. I allowed myself no more than 30 seconds for each scribble – I was after what was essential, what was immediate in the hope I would capture something more elusive:

 

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Day 5

Consolidation. I chatted to Isabella at the Observatory about my walks and recommended places for her to go. I thought. I thought a lot, with a few cups of coffee, about the past few days and just how full my head head was of stuff – emotional, observational, experiential stuff – and I was excited, too, thinking ahead to the time this experience would settle, consolidate and result in new work. And remarkably, I still didn’t feel pressured about coming up with anything. I knew I would – I always do, but just letting this gestate, ferment away quietly out of consciousness was a strangely enjoyable and confident experience.

I want the work I produce from this first residency to surprise me. I want to develop my practice, my expression in both art forms in some way. I feel that the residency has been deeply enriching.

It is now just a matter of time 🙂

MKY 28.05.2015

 

 

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composer-in-residence :: the observatory [1]

11088340_10152802919291190_6690883193647744883_nI am about to start my first residency period as composer-in-residence to the Observatory. The first residency, based at Winchester Science Park on the edge of the South Downs National Park will take place from the 18th – 22nd May. I will be using the Observatory buildings as my base and shall explore the surrounding locations and line-of-sight features to undertake my research and gather materials for the work that follows. As I am only on-site at each residency location for five days I shall take the opportunity to gather together all the content and observations I need to lay the foundations for the work that follows.

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SPUD say:
“Marc’s intention is to compose new, experimental, string quartets inspired by the various residency locations is an excellent fit with the ethos of the project and will enhance both its scope and impact as a result of his aim to focus on all four Observatory sites across the two-year period of the project, bringing a new perspective to the single site focus of the other appointed artists-in-residence. As an artist with an established track record in musical composition Marc is bringing a new element to the project in an artform that is not represented in the artists appointed to date. Year One of the project will engage with the residencies in the Observatory at Winchester Science Centre and Lymington/Keyhaven, Hampshire”.

Marc’s role as Composer-in-Residence is supported by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts, SPUD and DIVAcontemporary.

As a composer and painter I have a deeply held interest in the psychological and perceptual / emotional / intuitive associations between these two media and how ideas can be transduced one to the other. I have written about my thoughts and resultant compositions exploring these concerns here: http://marc-yeats.co.uk/blog/category/the-shape-distance/

As well as creating four new contemporary classical string quartets I will also keep a video diary of the residency and creative experience, make sketches and paintings [on location] of the built and natural landscape features to explore transduction between the physical environment and sound construction transforming [intuitively] visual ideas into notation – landscape into sound.

This method of ‘drawing to scoring’ underpins many of the concept stages of my work. I have written about the process here: http://marc-yeats.co.uk/blog/notation-from-drawing-to-scoring/

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The opportunity to look in, look out, up, down and around; to explore the work of other artists in residence and use these observations, themes, sounds and discoveries to build my own string quartet compositions, paintings and sketches, site-specifically informed, is a fantastic new opportunity to build work in relation to the Observatory, the land and what it inspires. The four Observatory quartets will be freestanding, independent works forming a much larger-scale composition reflecting my experiences across all four residency locations.

This first residency is based in the heart of rolling chalk landscape and the very particular scenery, geology, archaeology, flora and fauna it supports. I already have a deep affinity and love for this ‘species’ of landscape but still have no idea how the processes of composition and its underpinning research, including paintings and sketching will develop and reflect these qualities. I have an open mind about what I will encounter and what will interest and stimulate my imagination to create new work. It is both exciting and a little scary. It’s certainly a big adventure.

 

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