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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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the magical control of rain: Morris Pert, Mark Spalding, Geert Callaert and Me.

the magical control of rain: 8 pieces for piano | duration circa 40 minutes | dedicated posthumously to Morris Pert

Premiere: Geert Callaert – Friday 1st. May 2015 at 6.30pm at the National Centre for Early Music, York UK. A full programme can be viewed here, just scroll down to ‘event 4.

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Weather control is the act of manipulating or altering certain aspects of the environment to produce desirable changes in weather. Weather control can have the goal of preventing damaging weather, such as hurricanes or tornados, from occurring; of causing beneficial weather, such as rainfall in an area experiencing drought; or of provoking damaging weather against an enemy or rival, as a tactic of military or economic warfare.

the magical control of rain is posthumously dedicated to the Scottish composer Morris Pert.

Shortly before Morris passed away in 2010 we had a number of very interesting phone calls. Morris also wrote to me and sent me some of his music; as ever, he was keen to share and have feedback. I attach a photo of the last letter he sent me. After having know about and admired each other’s music for many years and only recently, finally meeting via Facebook, our conversations and friendship were sadly cut short.
 
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Morris has a facebook page dedicated to his life and work here.

A few years ago I discovered that the pianist Mark Spalding was a great advocate of Morris Pert’s piano music and has become the prime exponent of this music in the UK. I suggested to Mark that it may be an attractive idea to ask other composers who admired Pert’s music to write some small piano pieces to be performed alongside this music in concerts.
 
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Mark asked me if I would like to write a piece for left hand only. Also, as a number of composers were involved in writing these pieces it was suggested that material from Pert’s Drosten theme (contained within another piano work) was incorporated in some way to bind the compositions together.

This I did. However, I created a piece that I was generally unhappy with and did not deliver it to Mark.

Subsequently, I took the material from the left-hand only piece and decided to experiment with it; transforming, expanding and restructuring the music for both hands. I instantly felt more satisfied with the results. It soon became clear to me that I was not building a small occasional piece composed around Pert’s theme but a substantial 40+ minute, eight-movement work that whilst no longer audibly themed around Pert’s notes, was, never-the-less, imbued with the ghost of these notes as well as the original left-hand music; It was as if the shapes, structures and harmonies of the left-hand piece were binding this new work together.

I finally plucked up courage to tell Mark that the shorter left-hand only piece had failed, but I had written a demanding and substantial work to pay tribute to the music of my friend, Morris Pert.

the magical control of rain is a through-composed complete work. However, each of the eight sections of this piece have been designed as free-standing shorter pieces in their own right, to be performed separately, in varied combinations or ideally as the one complete piano work.
 
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Mark Spalding went on to premiere parts 1 & 2 of the collection in Schotts music room, London in 2013. Unfortunately I was unable to attend.
 
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A little before this I met the pianist Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, probably on Twitter although the exact circumstance of our meeting illude me just now.
Pierre Arnaud and I admired each other’s work enormously and quickly moved to a point of wanting to work with each other. Pierre-Arnaud asked me to send him a collection of recent piano works so he could see if anything took his fancy. One of the works I sent was the magical control of rain and it was this piece – the biggest collection of pieces I sent, that he was drawn to.

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After several different attempts to secure a performance and recording opportunity for the magical control of rain we received a great offer from the York Spring Festival of New Music. Unfortunately, although we got very close to premiering the work, unforeseen circumstances prevented this performance from coming to fruition.
 

Luckily, my very good friend and amazing pianist, Geert Callaert was able to save the day by stepping in to learn this huge piece of repertoire at the very last minute – in fact, with just 6 weeks till the premiere date!
 
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Geert and I are very excited to present the premiere on Friday 1st. May 2015 at 6.30pm at the National Centre for Early Music, York, UK. A full programme can be viewed here, just scroll down to ‘event 4’.

Geert Callaert:
The virtuoso pianist Geert Callaert took piano classes with Jan Vermeulen at LUCA-Arts campus Lemmensinstituut in Leuven (Belgium), obtaining the highest degrees for piano, chamber music, piano accompaniment, advanced musical analysis, composition and conducting (the special prize Lemmens-Tinel). In 2002 he graduated at the Orpheus institute with a project on the piano music and chamber music with percussion of Stockhausen, Xenakis and Wuorinen. During his formative years he participated in many seminars, among them the Stockhausen courses and seminars at the IRCAM in Paris. He is much sought after as a soloist and chamber musician at home and abroad because of his large and virtuoso repertoire, ranging across the whole gamut from classical to new music.
Callaert is also a composer and a professor of piano music and chamber music for students who want to specialize in contemporary work, as well as a researcher in music, conductor and accompanist working at LUCA-Arts campus Lemmensinstituut (Leuven, Belgium) and the Koninklijk Conservatorium Antwerpen (“School of Arts van de AP Hogeschool”, Antwerpen, Belgium). His performances and music can be found on 15 CDs and 1 DVD. The DVD “Avant-garde” contains two film scores with his music (music for two surreal silent movies, Belgian art). In 2012 he has released with the Academy for New Music Lemmensinstituut LUCA-Arts as a conductor and pianist (Pavane Records) the worldwide sold cd “Mysterious Morning” containing contemporary and virtuoso music for saxophone by Tanada, Wuorinen, De Clercq, Neyrinck and Hurel. Different composers worldwide such as Marc Yeats (UK), Robert Groslot (Belgium), Idin Samimi Mofakham (Iran) and Kee Yong Chong (Singapore) have recently written their most beautiful piano music for him. Geert Callaert is a member of the artistic board and a co-founder of the HERMESensemble and one of the core performers in the ensemble (www.hermesensemble.be).

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Gordon Crosse in conversation :: [4]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [4]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

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For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

All the interviews can be found here

At well over an hour, this is the longest interview in the series.

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

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There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

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As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.
 
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We hope you enjoy them.

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Gordon Crosse in Conversation :: [3]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [3]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

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For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

All the interviews can be found here

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

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There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

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As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.
 
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We hope you enjoy them.

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Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [2]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [2]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

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Gordon’s cottage in the seclusion of East Suffolk

 
For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

 
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There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more. This episode features Mark eating a packet of crisps very noisily throughout the first 10 minutes of our conversation – please bear with it!

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Gordon preparing a late evening snack after our conversation.

 
As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.

 

We hope you enjoy them.

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Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

In August 2014, my partner Mark Hewitt and I took what has now become something of an annual pilgrimage to Suffolk to visit our very dear friend and composer, Gordon Crosse.

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Gordon Crosse with Mark Hewitt

 

These visits have proven to be an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic life. Suffolk is a strange land – somehow very cut off from elsewhere, isolated, almost in a different time-zone all its own.

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Gordon Crosse with Marc Yeats

 

The landscape has always been a favourite; gently rolling agricultural land – lots of arable farming, beautiful villages, amazingly historic, well preserved churches, byways and forgotten villages and a desolate, quietly vast coastline of soft crumbling cliffs, expansive reed-beds or long shingle beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It is a land of horizons and sky – light and shadows. There’s fragility here, too. The land is constantly under threat from the sea – any trip to the sea makes it clear how low-lying much of the coastal fringe is, and where there are cliffs, they crumble with each gentle caress of the waves for they are made of sand, the legacy of vast, ancient ‘petrified’ estuarine deposits easily eroded by wind, rain and of course, the sea. Here you will find lost villages that have been claimed by the sea and the haunted remnants of houses condemned to destruction as they perch and eventually tumble from their foundations above the cliffs to the beach below. There is great beauty and peace here – great quiet, too; one can walk for days.

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Gordon lives in a secluded cottage near an area of rare, protected heathland, cocooned in a small indentation in the land. There’s no standing on ceremony here; Gordon is very relaxed as are his surroundings, reflecting much of his life, past and present. The house is fascinating in as much as it tells you a great deal about its owner, his life and priorities. You’ll find no fitted carpets, fitted kitchens or matching three-piece suites here – no colour-coded bathroom furniture; the house is like a snowball that has collected its content as it rolled through life.

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Gordon is a wonderful host, too, and we always have so much to talk about; music especially. With three composers in the room, all with different musical aesthetics and many shared passions, conversation flows. On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of this conversation to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

There would be nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

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As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.

 

We hope you enjoy them.

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Music landscape and me [5]

14, February 2015

music, landscape and me [5]

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I’m stepping back in time a few years from music, landscape and me [4] and returning to 1985 when I moved from Teignmouth to Southampton with Jane before moving from there to Skye in 1987. I was 22.

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Totton Powerstation [oil on canvas 30 x 20 inches] as seen from over the water in Southampton, an apocolyptic vision painted in the early 1990s

1985-1987
I hated it – what a depressing place to live. We bought a nice little house but I didn’t enjoy the built-up, rundown, crowded city environment. At the end of our road was a ship-builders and a large, smelly sewage works!

I remember saying to Jane when we arrived on a bleak, damp, dark and foggy night – “I’ll give it two years!”

We were in Southampton because Jane was taking a degree course in medical sciences at Southampton University. Initially we lived in married quarters at the university [very cramped but not unpleasant]. Within a number of months we had bought a house in Swift Road and soon settled into that. After qualifying in Devon as a nurse for people with learning disabilities [1985] I managed to get a very good job working for Mencap as a residential care-worker not far from where I lived. I really enjoyed this work and continued to paint for 30 hours a week as well. But things were far from settled.

During the two years living in Southampton I underwent catastrophic change.

I was still painting landscapes – still the same sort of thing. I had a few exhibitions organised but was badly let down – betrayed even, by several galleries in the south and west and was still messing about trying to break out of the ‘trap’ of representational painting, often with little success, leaving only a legacy of frustration.

My thoughts were turning to composition with increasing frequency, too, but I found nothing but frustration there, as well. I tinkered, wrote a few bits of pieces but was instantly unhappy with the results. I completed little, eager to move on and learn the next lesson. I knew where I wanted to be, or at least the direction I wanted to head in but really had no means of getting there. The disconnect between my inner musical world and my ability to communicate it to anyone else, especially through notation, became desperate.

To add to this, my mind was disintegrating.

It began quietly; fears and anxieties that unsettled me, haunting and taunting from the dark recesses of my subconscious.  This disquieting grew over months until it manifest as relentless waking dreams and visions of such terrible intensity I began to live in constant fear of these scenarios acting out and becoming reality. For some reason I had become obsessed with everything I knew and held dear being utterly destroyed by war; especially nuclear war. The anxiety was continual; I could think of nothing else but civilisation and the world coming to an appalling end. I would see these scenarios when I slept, but also when I was awake – towns and cities flattened, burning, the sky horrific colours after the destruction – death everywhere – it was utter hell. And I was living this every day.

My mind became mangled; it began to affect my daily behaviour. I became physically ill, demoralised, depressed and reclusive. I could see no hope, no reason to continue. The visions and dreams intensified and grew in graphic detail to such a point it became difficult to draw the line between external reality and the reality in my mind. This sounds psychotic, but I was always aware that these things were happening and I was torn between two worlds. I knew something was badly wrong – psychosis, however, is generally a condition the sufferer is unaware of where they think their mental state is normal and everything else around them is wrong. Neurotic, perhaps, but psychotic, no. What was certain was that I was having some kind of mental breakdown.

I remained sane at the same time as being totally terrified. My belief in these visions [I call them that for want of something better – no ‘spiritual’ implications intended] was fuelled by a number of premonitions that preceded and were frighteningly accurate in their specifics and detail. I shared these premonitions, often of significant world events with others before they happened so they who could verify their accuracy and I could rest assured I wasn’t imagining these things or falsifying their potency. I found these premonitions very unsettling and their accuracy only served to make me take seriously the visions I was having in Southampton some months later. I had no idea what was happening, just that I wanted it to stop!

I went to the Doctor – he said stress and prescribed beta-blockers. I didn’t take them. I didn’t know whether I needed a psychiatrist or an exorcist!

Jane supported me through all this. It must have been a terrible strain on her. She used to walk me around the streets of Southampton at night and talk to me – I was so afraid of falling asleep and having the same terrifying dreams.

It was on one of those midnight walks that Jane said something about my [tragically dysfunctional] relationship with my father. I can’t remember the very words just now, but I do remember that what she said made me cry. I am not someone who cries easily – even when I want to, but as I cried I sensed a release – small at first but deeply felt. It was like the first crack developing in a vast sheet of ice.

From that point on, slowly but surely, the balance in my mind between the world outside and the world inside began to stabilise. This was not a fast process; it took 6-8 months with many setbacks along the way, but the general momentum was toward normalisation.

What became apparent, for whatever reasons, was that the very damaging relationship I had had with my father and the psychological and emotional brutality I lived with had scarred me in ways I hadn’t realised. I always thought I got through the bullying, fear and insecurity unscathed. People who knew my background would remark how ‘well adjusted’ I was considering the circumstances of my childhood. It seemed that somehow, a great deal of this damage had associated itself with my fear of everything I had subsequently built [secure relationships, love of music, painting, the landscape] being destroyed – taken away from me. The legacy of insecurity my father had left me had manifest into the horrors of nuclear war . . . . perhaps, and Jane’s comment about my relationship with my father had triggered a release or realisation?

You may wonder why my mother is not mentioned here. She was wonderful but unfortunately died of cancer when she was 44 and I was 15. She could not act as a buffer between my father and me any more. My father made her life a misery for long enough, too.

It also became clear that I had to get out of Southampton to begin a new life elsewhere. I wasn’t out of the woods yet but I knew the right direction of travel in and it was a long way from Southampton!

Around this time and just before leaving Devon I was an avid Radio 3 listener [in the days when they played contemporary music regularly and you didn’t feel the need to submerge yourself in a ‘relaxing’ bath to enjoy it]. What a great resource this was. Armed with my trusty tape recorder and a copy of the Radio Times I would hunt for anything that I thought sounded interesting. I was hugely ignorant of contemporary classical music and those who were working around me; Radio 3 was my contact with the rest of the musical world.

It was through Radio 3 listening that I first discovered the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies [and Mahler at the same time] and not the tuneful Max – I first heard Black Pentecost and though it dark and shockingly marvellous and extreme. Not so long after that I heard his 3rd. Symphony of 1984. It still remains my favorite piece of Max’s – its amazingly taunt structure, intense soundworld and desolate, uncompromising beauty haunts me to this day.

This was the first contemporary music I had really heard and it spoke to me. And what a contrast from the English pastoralism I had surrounded myself with before. Here [certainly in the symphonies] was a new language that to my ear at least, still concerned itself with landscape, but this time, through a continually evolving, Sibelian like transformative process, on the surface of its sound, at least. I was so interested to know how it was made, how it was written down. Shortly after this I also encountered Harrison Birtwistle’s music and was equally enamoured and struck by his obsessions with landscape and ritual using an entirely new language that owed more to Starinsky than Sibelius but nevertheless held a monolithic, timeless beauty.

This music somehow resonated with my bleak state of mind at the time and I loved it.

I wasn’t interested in pretty tunes and neat harmonies written by living composers – that had already been done and oh so well by the many ‘dead composers’ who have left the legacy I love. This newfound relationship with Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle helped to move me further towards my goal of being a composer – it inspired me to try and find out how to write down the sounds l heard. I truly had no idea; I also had no access to scores or other musicians to help. 

What I didn’t know I simply made up. This approach has stood me in good stead ever since!

 

New doors – new locations – new techniques for painting and composing were about to open. The catastrophic experience of Southampton was to unleash an enormous change in my painting and open the compositional floodgates!

 

 

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Notation: from drawing to scoring

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012 [updated 14.02.2015]
Notation: from drawing to scoring

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from manuscripts of moving song – score sketch
 


World premiere performance by Zero Theorem: Aisha Orazbayeva [violin], Minsi Yang [violin], Stephen Upshaw [viola], And Patrick Tapio Johnson [cello] as part of DIVAcontemporary’s Sonic Coast [5] at Beaminster School on the 17th January 2015
 
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Structure: When in doubt, draw it!

Finally, after months of thought and deliberation I have arrived at a structural solution for notating the score of my string quartet, now titled ‘from moving manuscripts of song’ (see previous notation related posts).

This title appeals to me especially because of the use of the word ‘manuscripts’ but more especially because of the verb ‘moving’ and noun ‘song’.

The use of ‘moving’ implies a fluidity of execution in live performance that my compositional and notational method aims to capture in the ‘static’ structural representation of the score. ‘Song’ is similarly ideal as each of the quartet voices are indeed ‘singing’ as a choir, independently with their own music, granted, but voices brought together; meshed in, by performing their material ‘framed’ in the same space at the same time as a quartet. The expectation is for an intimate musical relationship between the four players. The nature of this music does not preclude such intimacy but does re-draw the player’s lines of communication and integration, responding to each other spontaneously as the work unfolds and utilising all aspects of their musicality. This relationship is further reinforced by the thematic connectivity within the musical material itself. The fact that the voices are playing independently will be far less apparent when just listening to the music; the outcome will be one of a fusion of interconnected sounds; there will be nothing ‘disconnected’ about it!

As I write in the performance notes on the score:

This music is divided into five sections some of which have sub-sections. The piece should be performed as a continual whole with pauses marking the boundaries of each section.

The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the parts other than that which arises spontaneously through performance. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and to this end it is vital that metronome markings are adhered to as accurately as possible.

Bergersen-Quartet-3_00061from manuscripts of moving song – 3 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above

 
There are a number of sections that operate in very close (almost imitative) canon. Again, no exact synchronisation is intended but players should ‘follow’ each other as closely as possible to approximately maintain the displacement of the instruments consequent of their starting order. If metronome markings in these sections are too fast they should be moderated through agreement with each player so that all can perform at roughly the same tempi.

Compositional material is derived from a series of variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. This material is at its most radically diverse in the opening section and at its least differentiated in sections 3 and 5, both of which employ the aforementioned close canons. The piece as a whole could be considered as journeying from flux to greater focus although this statement oversimplifies the actual processes involved.

Bergersen-Quartet-1c_00032from manuscripts of moving song – 1c – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above
 

I have produced a score for the quartet which is a compromise between displaying all the musical material for each section or sub-section on the same page whilst avoiding the innumerable complexities of trying to notate each part in vertical alignment as represented in real time. The approach I have taken feels further justified as attempting to accurately pin-down the vertical alignment of the parts would go against the ethos of flexibility I have so carefully calculated in the music.

Bergersen-Quartet-4_00071from manuscripts of moving song – 4 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above
 

As a consequence, the score cannot be read in the conventional manner (seeing all instruments sounding simultaneously in vertical alignment) although the progress of individual instrumental parts can be followed in the score. The performance parts for the quartet are notated as normal.

Programme note from the score:

The information below should not imply any programmatic, emotional or imagery treatment within this piece of entirely abstract music. Both title line and later, entire poem were discovered after the music was conceived. Information is given purely to place the title in its proper context.

‘Let Me Enjoy’ is the first of ‘A Set of Country Songs’, the 18 poems which make up the third section of Time’s Laughingstocks, and themselves begin with the seven poems grouped under the heading ‘At Casterbridge Fair’. It is also the first poem in Gerald Finzi’s Opus 19 set of songs, Till Earth Outwears, and Hardy later included it in his Selected Poems, together with a note suggesting that the subtitle ‘(Minor Key’) might not be needed when the poem appeared separately from the rest of the ‘Country Songs’. It was one of the nine poems Hardy chose for the Library of the Royal Dolls’ House at Windsor.

Hardy revised several lines at different times. In the Cornhill, where the poem first appeared in 1909, line 7 read ‘I will find charm in her loth air’; in the first volume publication, this was amended to ‘I will find charm in her uncare’ (a fascinating example of Hardy’s interest in words beginning with the prefix ‘un–‘, of which there are more than 350 different examples in the poems alone: to ‘uncare’ is surely not the same as merely to ‘not care’), before Hardy settled on the final version. In the third verse, ‘moving song’ was ‘rapturous strain’ in the manuscript, and ‘tender song’ in the Cornhill; perhaps more strikingly, ‘dreams’ in line 10 was ‘souls’ in the manuscript and remained so until Collected Poems in 1928. ‘And some day hence’, in the final verse, was ‘Perhaps some day’ in the manuscript and the first volume publication.

Let Me Enjoy
(Minor Key)

I) Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.

II) About my path there flits a Fair,
Who throws me not a word or sign;
I’ll charm me with her ignoring air,
And laud the lips not meant for mine.

III) From manuscripts of moving song
Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown
I’ll pour out raptures that belong
To others, as they were my own.

IV) And some day hence, towards Paradise
And all its blest – if such should be –
I will lift glad, afar-off eyes
Though it contain no place for me.

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the shape distance :: did it work? [3]

DECEMBER 27, 2013 [updated 14.02.2015]
‘the shape distance’: Did it work?

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Sketched moment from ‘the shape distance [7].

Did it work?

In short, yes!

In December 2013 I travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, to work with Chamber Cartel as they gave the premiere and made recordings of ‘the shape distance’ [1-7] for seven players.

‘the shape distance’ is a collection of independent pieces, solos mainly, brought together in the one ensemble piece to be played together in an unsynchronised fashion; by this I mean that each of the solo lines plays independently of one another, each having fully notated material written in different tempi and baring structures. There are cues to start the material but after beginning there is no further vertical coordination or alignment; the way the solo lines relate to each other in the performance represent a unique iteration of the piece.

The pieces are composed to be free-standing works, performed as a part of a mixed programme. On this occasion all seven pieces were premiered in the one live event.

In my research preceding the composition I ‘calculated’ the range of outcomes available allowing for ‘natural variation’ or deviation from my ‘ideal’ outcome scenario [this occurring if all musicians followed my metronome markings with complete accuracy]. Of course, musicians are human beings and not metronomes, so I anticipated that the ideal scenario or iteration would never be achieved, as each performance would yield different interpretations of speed with each musician varying their rendition somewhat with each play-through. The variables would be many and this was, in part at least, the attraction that has drawn me to this manner of composition, therefore each performance was the right performance but of course, some would feel more ‘right’ than others.

Players were also given a target duration for the length of their material. This overall timespan allowed the soloists to gauge their speeds across the length of music and acted as a limiting factor that would ensure greater cohesion of the parts in relation to my ideal outcome scenario. Within this, the players could interpret the music fully. Compositional material is [largely] derived from a series of distant variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. All the instrumental roles are written to a high degree of virtuosity and most contain extended techniques and quarter-tones. The music itself [through the simultaneous bringing together of these individual parts] forms dense, highly complex and constantly changing relationships that are frequently wild and sometimes beautiful.

Like Russian Dolls, the seven pieces all ‘nest’ within ‘the shape distance [7]’. The ‘unpacked’ material represents ‘the shape distance’ pieces. The notated music within all of ‘the shape distance’ parts [solos] remains exactly the same from [1-7]. For example, Flute 1 plays the same music in each of the seven pieces but due to its changed context within the variable instrumental combinations and the unsynchronised nature of the vertical alignments, the Flute 1 material takes on a different relationship and contextual significance within each instrumental combination; in short, it sounds different in different contexts. This applies to all other solo lines as well and is the device that brings aural variation to the set.

As this project developed it also became clear that there was potential to develop more than the 7 originally conceived pieces. What resulted were 14 pieces under the collective title of the shape distance, most of which have now been recorded by Chamber Cartel

the shape distance [1] flute 1 / clarinet
the shape distance [2] flute 1 / clarinet / piano
the shape distance [3] flute 1 / clarinets 1 + 2 / viola / harp / piano
the shape distance [4] flutes 1 + 2 / harp
the shape distance [5] flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / percussion (1)
the shape distance [6] flute 1 / clarinet / harp / percussion (1)
the shape distance [7] flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / harp / piano / percussion (1)
the shape distance [11] harp / piano
the shape distance [12] Clarinet / viola / harp
the shape distance [13] flutes 1 + 2 / Clarinet / viola / 2 harps
the shape distance [14] flutes 1 + 2 / Clarinets 1 + 2 / Violas 1 + 2 / harp / percussion (1)

All the above represents my research – my theoretical understanding around how to compose music that would have the unsynchronized freedoms previously mentioned yet still produce a cohesive and satisfying musical experience for the composer, performers and audience.

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More rehearsals at 800 East

The musicians took to the idea of unsynchronised playing immediately. It became clear that playing an independent line as part of an unsynchronised ensemble did not present any major issues other than getting the overall duration of their material correct as per the composers indications. For performers who had practiced intently this did not present a problem as they were familiar with the tempi with which they rehearsed the material in their own practice sessions and this was easily transferrable into the ensemble context. It also became apparent that individual musicians benefitted from being able to ‘play off’ each other within the ensemble and this live generation of sound and their spontaneous reaction to it enhanced the expressiveness of their own performances. This is not improvisation as all the material is fully notated and flexibility lies only in the vertical alignment of each of the parts with musicians given very clear and detailed instructions around expressive markings which needed to be followed precisely at all times for the piece to work. This is of great importance because the aural layering and internal communication governing the parts is as much to do with dynamic markings as it is with tessitura and rhythm. The ‘playing off’ aspect cannot affect dynamic relationships [such as several instruments are playing loudly and my part is marked very quiet so I’d better play it a bit louder to be heard] otherwise the foreground, mid-ground and background of the music’s spatial integrity would be lost. The ‘playing off’ that the musicians referred to enhanced a sense of confidence and musicality that perhaps enabled them to contextualise their performance moment to moment as the inter-relationships unfolded, and amplify their interpretation making it more three dimensional and meaningful. This represented a new and positive experience for the musicians.

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Rehearsals at 800 East

As predicted, this nature of music involves a great deal of personal practice to master the demands of the notation but relatively little time in ensemble rehearsal. For ensembles who are often pushed for rehearsal time, especially when performing more challenging music, this unsynchronised format offers many advantages.

Interestingly, a number of the musicians commented that the music sounded vertically through-composed even when a group practicing their own parts independently in the same space were each starting at arbitrary points in their respective scores. This came as an added bonus and can only be due to the interconnected relationships between the materials in all the parts that cohesively binds them together no matter how they are combined. This was perhaps the greatest vindication that my research had worked in practical terms.

Audience feedback was also extremely positive. Considering the unfamiliar and to some, ‘challenging’ nature of this music such reactions were a bonus.

Finally, out of this rehearsal process came another ‘the shape distance’ piece; number 11 for harp and piano. I had not originally considered this as a combination to join the set. I cannot offer a reason for this but when two of the players suggested that they try their two parts together and see what it sounded like I was very interested to explore their idea. And they were right, it worked and sounded like another addition to the set of pieces. Another Russian Doll had been discovered in the set offering further evidence that the material of ‘the shape distance’ can yield many possible outcomes only some of which have been ‘captured’ here.


‘the shape distance [11]‘ represents one of the calmer combination of the material.


Recordings and downloads of the full set of pieces will be available in Spring 2014.

Marc Yeats is composer-in-association with Chamber Cartel.

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the shape distance [2]

MARCH 18, 2013

‘the shape distance’ [maps 5-8]

A greater confidence and liberation of gesture and colour are increasingly apparent as I continue my journey into painting to ‘capture’ moments in sound from my own compositions onto the two-dimensional surface of white-borads [at least, that’s the intention – the reality may prove rather more elusive]. You will need to judge for yourselves just how ‘musical’ these paintings are as it is difficult for me to be objective once the processes of assimilation [making the painting] takes over, all other concerns become secondary.

My intention remains pure enough, but the excitement of working with pigment, texture, colour and modeling form tends to dictate its own dynamic on-goingly. This ‘non-temporal’ media is quickly so much more responsive and pliable in ‘real-time’ than writing down music, making the act of composition feel laboriously painstaking. [maps 5-8] sees a further exploration and extension of the initial mark-making in [maps 1-4] and tackles a broader repertoire of ‘sound-initiators’ [the sound or combinations of sounds in aural gesture I employ to initiate the mark-making from my imagination]. More extreme sound-events now shape my painted outcomes. The resultant work reflects these polarities.

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‘the shape distance [map 8]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 7]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×24 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 6]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 5]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013