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A week from now the
premiere will have been and gone! I've nothing very specific to say in this
diary entry, other than to record that I have all the usual mix of feelings
of apprehension, excitement, self-doubt, self-confidence and anticipation
that goes along with premieres. At the rehearsal the other day, some members
of the orchestra made some very nice remarks about the piece, saying how well-written
and clear it is. I am delighted with that, because it is one of my goals in
this project to communicate clearly and effectively with the audience. In
a week's time, I'll find out whether or not I've achieved that!
First orchestral rehearsal.
A very interesting
and enjoyable occasion. I think the piece is going to work just fine!
We were able to rehearse
Movements 2 and 3 completely (with tape for Movt. 2), and the orchestral material
for Movement 1 (with amplified double bass). The live MIDI soundfiles for
Movement 1 will have to be added at the Hall on May 27th, because we did not
have the appropriate technical set-up in the rehearsal venue (St Johns Church,
Movement 3 was rehearsed
first and went very well. There were a few balance questions (between string
and wind) which will be resolved by suitable mixing since the orchestra is
to be amplified. It was hard to judge the extent of the imbalances because
the church is so resonant. Most of the rehearsal focussed upon questions of
rhythm (getting the right feel) and articulation (how the notes are played).
The players settled into this quickly and I'm pretty certain this movement
will make an immediate and lively impact.
Movement 2 took some
explaining: many of the players had not seen notation like this before. Richard
Studt (the conductor) decided to beat 5 beats per "bar", at a pulse of 60
beats per minute - in other words he became a ticking clock against which
the players could time their entries depending upon whereabouts the notes
were placed within the bar (see previous diary entry for a more detailed explanation
A couple of notational
problems also arose during the "gamelan" section. In attempting to imitate
the sound of Javanese string and wind instruments, I had written extremely
high and fast material for a solo violin, and also some very high oboe notes.
Classical players are used to playing exactly what's in front of them, and
what I wrote looked more or less unplayable without years of practice! I had
to explain that in both cases I was after an effect rather than detailed accuracy
- a modal meandering around the tune. In gamelan music, the higher up you
go in register the more rapidly the instruments are played, but these are
not more prominent than the rest - in fact, the most prominent thing is the
slow-moving tune. Anyway, once I'd explained what I wanted to the players
they got it just fine and the results sounded very good. I think I will try
to find a different way of notating this passage.
The section immediately
after the gamelan was the most enjoyable surprise, sounding much richer and
fuller than I'd expected. The addition of the flanged electric guitar sounds
filled out the texture beautifully and a genuine "tutti" was felt - something
which is normally difficult with only 24 players. This was the only part of
the Symphony which did not sound exactly as I'd imagined it, and the result
was an improvement on what I'd imagined so I was very happy.
Overall, the best thing
about the Movement 2 rehearsal was that they played it through once and it
all worked! When asked to comment, I suggested that the string players in
particular (who make lots of unusual noises) 'theatricalise' their gestures.
Live music is a visual as well as an auditory experience and the more the
players can give out to the audience, the more likely it is that the audience
will be drawn into the piece.
The rehearsal for Movement
1 was necessarily rather patchy, given the absence of the live MIDI, and it
will be this movement that requires the most attention on May 27th. The difficulty
is making things flow, since there are numerous changes of mood and tempo.
The orchestra seemed to experience the most problems with rhythmic layering
- pulses moving at different speeds simultaneously. Nevertheless, things were
basically pretty good and I'm confident it will all come together. I was also
very impressed by the commitment and skill shown by the two featured players:
Howard Nelson (flutes) and Keith Wood (amplified double bass). Keith had to
work with some effects pedals which changed his sound quite a bit, and we
had some interesting technical discussions about these. Howard plays all the
flutes: piccolo, flute, alto flute, and bass flute! This meant a change in
embouchure (mouth position) throughout the Movement - a virtuosic thing in
itself - but his duet with Keith at the end of Movement, playing the mighty
bass flute, promises to be the highlight of the whole Symphony.
My approach in the rehearsal
was (as it always is) to try to be as flexible as possible, and to take on
board suggestions and comments from the players. I'm a pragmatist - I want
to achieve something which 'works' and I'm quite happy to drop or modify my
ideas to do so. When composing, I'm always exploring and experimenting, trying
to create new sound images and textures. Sometimes that leads me into conflict
with established practice, or indeed simple playability. By and large this
has not been a problem in 'Symphony for Cornwall', especially because the
soundfiles are so interesting in themselves, but on the occasions where problems
do arise I feel it is my responsibility to ensure that the players are happy
and that the material communicates itself well to the band.
- The notation for Movement
2 is time-based. That is to say, rather than beats and bars, I use dotted
barlines to indicate 5 second units, then headless notes placed proportionally
within the 5" bar to indicate when and for how long to play. Here's a screenshot
to show what I mean:
- Here you are looking
at the section from 15 seconds onwards. Each dotted bar = 5 seconds. The single
line staff (second down) represents the Tape part, with verbal descriptions
of what is heard ("hosed collage" = sample hosing, a process I'll explain
in the Electronic Workshop). On this page the top line is the Percussion and
the strings all appear divisi below (i.e. one staff per instrument). Thus
you can see the first three violinists in the screenshot).
- Violin 1 plucks a single
note behind the bridge of the instrument (makes a squeaky noise) on 15", then
does nothing until roughly 21", when he/she bows a 5 second note (white notes
last approx. 5") col legno tratto, which means scraping the wood of the bow
across the string (as opposed to "battuto", which is slapping the string).
This will produce a strange wispy sound.
- Violin 2 plays a five
second natural harmonic (lightly touching the string), with tremolo articulation
(i.e. shuddering bow) starting at about 22".
- Violin 3 also plays
a tremolo, starting at about 17", but sul ponticello (with the bow near the
bridge) to make an eerie scraping sound.
- You can't see the rest
of the score here, but all the strings are doing this kind of thing during
this passage, and it creates an atmospheric texture to blend in with the noises
from the hosed collage.
Movement 2 finished.
You know, it's mighty
difficult to describe the creative process as it is actually happening, especially
when there is a deadline looming (in this case, all the scores and parts have
to be ready by March 31st). Movement 2 has been more difficult to do than
the other two Movements - indeed, I have actually "trashed" two minutes' worth
of music from this Movement, which added to the pressure to get the piece
done in time. So here is an attempt to summarise the process for Movement
2, written with the awareness that I am probably making some tasteful edits
to remove the hair-tearing moments!
Just to recap, I'd decided
that the Movement would use the "noise"-based soundfiles and all the guitar
samples, and that it would be scored for orchestra and tape (which plays continuously)
and that it would last ten minutes. All these decisions have been seen through
to the end.
The soundfiles used
The Green Theme (all the various sounds) from Roseland Community School Callington
School's PPwav Ed Weston's guitar and jungle files (Penrice School) Humphrey
Davy School's noise collage Looe Community School's guitar tracks Torpoint's
flanged and twangy guitars I also added to this the sounds of Looe's glockenspiels,
and the improvised oboe and bass clarinet duet recorded by members of the
This last piece is
in A minor, as is a great deal of the guitar material and a number of the
soundfiles that appear in other movements ('Relax.wav, David Allsop's tune,
etc. etc.) Perhaps I should say the Aeolian mode, because almost everybody
seems to favour the flattened leading note - that is to say the scale A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
(white notes on the piano) in preference to the more "classical" A-B-C-D-E-F-G
sharp-A. This curious coincidence gives the basic modality for this Movement,
although at least half the material is noise and therefore not pitched.
The "recycling" idea,
favoured by Roseland, is another theme here, and material is processed in
a number of different ways, including a central evocation of the Javanese
gamelan (metal percussion orchestra) using the Looe glockenspiels - sampled
and played back as a Midi sequence - to conjure up the soundworld, and the
notes of the Oboe/Bass Cl. duet as the "balungan" or skeleton melody.
The duet, which has
a pastoral feel, also led to the section which I eventually threw away - a
kind of dark pastoral meditation, drifting and fairly complex. This material
simply would not fit anywhere with everything else, and so had to go. Gardening
is a ruthless business and growing a Symphony is no exception! Perhaps what
I wrote will re-surface somewhere else one day.
Anyway, the piece runs
as follows . Timings given in minutes and seconds.
0' 00"-0' 15" Humphry Davy School's noise collage 0' 15"-1' 15" Hosed collage
(i.e. filtered through all kinds of processes, to produce a scattered "random"
feel) accompanied by strings and tam-tam 1' 15"-1' 25" GT (= Roseland's "Green
Theme") plastic bottles 1' 25"-1' 40" Noise collage derived from processes
applied to soundfiles, accompanied by wind players breathing silently through
instruments 1' 40"-2' 15" Wind breaths continue, mixed with GT elements. Strings
add in and a climax is reached with the glass smash, which immediately reverses
2' 15"-3' 00" Ed Weston's "jungle" rhythm track, but slowed down, with rhythms,
sounds and events scattered almost randomly across the stereo image, accompanied
by more structured orchestral effects 3' 00"-3'50" The GT noises are combined
with the Oboe/Bass Clarinet duet. Romantic, bleak atmosphere 3'50"-6'00" Looe
glocks enter, playing a gamelan tune and the orchestra joins in for an extended
piece. Solo violin, oboes, flute and bass clarinet all play highly elaborate
and decorative versions of the melody, all in a kind of Aeolian mode 6'00"-8'15"
the final note of the gamelan launches an extended flanged drone, derived
from the Torpoint guitars. All kinds of processes applied here, also to Callington's
PP.wav. Strings and some wind pick out the upper harmonics, in a slow spectral
shift, while the bass clarinet solos, continuing to elaborate the "pastoral"
theme from earlier in the movement 8'15" - 8' 35" Solo cello, doubled by violin
playing artificial harmonics, plays a short four-bar tune which seems to summarise
elements of everything, from all movements. The orchestra repeats an A minor
chord, echoing the end of Movement 1. At the end of this section, Ed's guitars
mixed with twangs, fade in. 8' 35" - 10' 00" Pure tape composition. The guitars
accompany the oboe and bass clarinet duet. Elements of all the soundfiles
are edited together, processes applied, and the GT slapping wet leaves end
In the next diary entry,
I'll talk about the technical and notational requirements of the above. For
now... I'm exhausted!
Back to top
- I've just completed
Movement 3! I wrote it so fast that I had no time to write a diary entry during
composition, so here's an account of the process:
- I had already decided
that it would be the shortest of the Movements (about 7 minutes) and that
it would be played by the orchestra alone, without live electronics. I had
also planned that it would have a dance feel (perhaps with an echo of the
tangos that will feature in the first half of the concert) and that it would
use soundfiles that were conventionally "musical". This adds up
to the following four:
- 1. Looe Community School's
calypso-like flute solo
- 2. Callington School's
oboe and bassoon duet - a syncopated tune by Josie Alderton
- 3. Penair School's MUM2.mid
- a midi composition by Jake Ashworth-Jones
- 4. Camborne School's
'Scherzo' - a midi composition by Brendon James
- The Looe flute opens
the piece, but almost immediately a "cha-cha-cha"-type rhythm takes
over. This establishes itself pretty thoroughly, as does swirling references
to the tango, interwoven with the rhythmic pattern of the Looe flute. Into
this 1930's-style dance atmosphere comes the Callington duet, which is briefly
heard on its own, before the dancing starts up again.
- The tempo then changes
from common time to waltz time, and the Penair tune appears. This is stated
twice, once by the wind and strings and then again by full orchestra with
horns. A third statement is begun, but is rudely intruded upon by the Camborne
'Scherzo', which then proceeds via repetition and development to transform
into quite a dissonant, driving, build-up to...
- ... and that, dear readers,
is where we must leave it, because I have a surprise ending in store and I
do not wish to discuss it with you before the performance. You will just have
to come along on May 27th to find out what happens!!!
- Suffice to say that
Movement 3 is, I think, great fun and quite a showpiece for the orchestra.
The tunes that have been sent to me are all very good and I have been able
to develop some amusing and lively ideas from them. The audience should leave
with smiles on their faces!
- Movement 1 is completed!
It lasts a little bit longer than I expected: 17.5 minutes as opposed to 16.
This is because of the postlude for bass flute, double bass and the last chord
of Penryn's improvisation, which detached itself beautifully and makes a marvellous
repeated chord for this bluesy section.
- I see I've not written
any diary entries for a week or so - I'm afraid that I've been working too
fast and furiously even to find time to sit down and write. It's the price
you pay for a tight deadline. Anyway, to make up for it, here's an outline
of the first movement, plus a new feature on the website - an Electronic Workshop,
to show you how I've treated soundfiles.
- Movement 1 makes a kind
of journey East to West through Cornwall, with a "coastline" outlined
by the flute and double bass, who are featured (and amplified) in this movement.
So it is a "movement" in a real sense.
- Soundfiles I have not
included in this movement will appear in Movements 2 or 3. Altogether, I used
22 files, although some of these are treatments of given files. Although the
music travels through some quite diverse landscapes, it retains a sense of
unity because of: a. the use of the modem sound as a linking device; b. the
constant cross-referencing between sections; and c. the astonishing similarities
between some soundfiles.
- This last observation
also allows a structural return to opening material, because of the similarity
between one of the Newquay Tretherras soundfiles (David Allsop's) and the
Saltash "relax.wav" - both in A minor, both at 140 bpm, both featuring
descending scales, etc. These are not the only files with things in common:
many share either pulse, texture or spirit. The number 140 (and 141) kept
recurring, and this is reflected in the finished piece - many things repeat
140 times, or contain 140 pulses, or whatever.
- The Movement divides
into Sections, as follows:
- 1. Introduction, featuring
modem sounds and musicl motifs which derive from them.
- 2. Saltash theme, repeated
through sextatonic "shifting modalities" (i.e.intersting chord changes!)
- 3. A screeching, free
tempo, texture section with modem sounds and electric guitars from Torpoint
- 4. Bell-like section,
with florid flute line and Launcestonian synthesizers
- 5. Looe pianos slowed
right down meet Callington pianos galloping with echo. Over the top, the bass
and flute play the tune based on Andy Baker's file, modem sounds, and other
files, which you can hear by clicking the link in the last diary entry.
- 6. Poltair gulls and
a moment of stillness, blasted away by "Shock to the System"
- 7. Rapid transition
to "Unite and Unite", with high dialogue between orchestra and accordions
- 8. Explosion, with bits
of accordion, soundfiles and orchestra flying in all directions!
- 9. That tune again,
but stronger this time
- 10. Ben Simpson's voice
synth emerges, declaiming "MU-SICK, MU-SICK, MU-SICK". The orchestra
gradually chimes in, minimalist-style, building David Allsop's tune in sync.
- 11. That combines with
echoes of the Saltash theme. Much rhythmicdrive and exuberance in this section,
which gradually "fades"
- 12. The sea splashes
over the end of this, and on the sea drifts Penryn School, hitting their beautiful
final chord which then, unexpectedly, repeats over and over again to ccompany
a sultry duet for the unusual bass flute and double bass (echoes of Andy Baker
- I've made a Midi sequence
of this and taped it. Score and tape are on their way to the conductor, Richard
Studt. I don't think there will be any problems for the orchestra, but you
- Well, actually 22.2.99,
since it's 2.00 a.m. and I can't sleep because the music won't let me! This
is a familiar state of affairs for me. Half way through a piece, the creative
part of my brain just wants to get on on with it, whereas the analytical part
works on the slower process of critically examining what has been achieved
thus far. Some people in the academic world claim that creative art cannot
be research, since it is a primary, impulsive activity, whereas true research
is a secondary, analytical activity. At moments like these I can really demonstrate
the research aspects of what I do. The beauty and power of making art is that
it is *both* at once!
- Anyway, what I have
thus far is:
- Introduction (based
on fragmented modem)
Saltash-Torpoint sequence (repetitive, exciting chords)
'Bell' sequence (over Launceston synth)
Looe pianos with Callington gallop (Looe slowed right down, Callington speeded
Drifting tune (sythesis of Andy Baker, 'Unite and unite' and bells again)
'Unite and unite' duet between orchestra and accordion (Wadebridge)
Drifting tune again, this time stronger, with more folk-feeling post 'U+U'
- The drifting tune is
in fact two tunes, and emerges from the flute-bass duet that runs throughout
all the above. It has emerged organically from all the other sources, and
I like it for that reason. It's also attractive, which is fine too. Here's
a Midi file of it - if you can, please set track
1 to Flute, track 2 to pizz (or fretless) bass, and track 3 to French Horn.
The tempo is slow, just in case your Midi player doesn't pick up the b.p.m.
- All the above material
is strong, but my analysis is (as always!) concerned with form. At present,
the Movement still feels like a succession of pleasant sound pictures, rather
than a fully unified composition. I've included all kinds of cross-references
and developments from one to the next, back and forth, but still the problem
persists (it's an inevitable consequence of my working method, I guess). My
solution to this is to make a virtue of necessity and work on developing interludes
derived from the modem call and featuring the flute-bass combo. These will
go between the sections listed above (although not in an obvious and predictable
way!) and will just develop the main theme of the Movement, which is... COMMUNICATION
(of which the modem sound is a powerful symbol).
- I won't have the same
formal problems in Movements 2 and 3, which sort the source soundfiles by
type. There the problem will be differentiation, just wait and see!
- Just in case anyone
reading this is wondering - these problems are not unusual. In fact, I would
consider them the very stuff of composition (the word means "putting
things together", after all) and I've faced them with pretty well every
piece I've ever written. It's partly a consequence of making one's own rules
as one goes along, something which 20th Century art music seems to require.
- I'm taking so many decisions
that it is hard to know how to describe the process. Since the last diary
entry, I've reached a point roughly half way through the first movement, when
we arrive at Poltair's gulls and sea - a moment of stillness before "SHOCK
TO THE SYSTEM". I made a rough sequence of all that in Cubase VST and
so was able to take stock.
- At this stage the flute
and bass duet is still not present, so I have to imagine that, but even so
I have identified a problem with the first movement.
- The sequence of soundfiles
means that it is becoming hard to establish a sense of organic unity and I
need to do something about this now, before continuing the composition. So
I've gone back to the beginning of the piece and thought about everything
I've learnt so far. This has resulted in an introductory section of some 29
bars using material derived from - and musically anticipating *all* the soundfiles.
- The premise for the
introduction is a dissection of Ben Kitt's modem:
- 1. dialling (a little
- 2. signal (a dotted
rhythm on high C)
- 3. connection (a syncopated
pattern on augmented fourths: quaver-crotchet-quaver etc.)
- 4. noise (white-noise
- Each of these ideas
gets a brief musical treatment, interwoven with figures from the other soundfiles:
Unite and unite, Callington, Looe, Poltair, etc. etc. and Andy Baker's bass,
mixed with noise. The notes create a whole-tone scale effect (sextatonic!),
and agreeably suggest some kind of seventh chord on E, which provides a nice
structural upbeat to the glorious A minor of "relax.wav".
- The introduction also
presents an opportunity to begin the Piccolo and Double Bass material, and
gives all the instruments a first airing. There is considerable variety of
texture and colour within a relatively short space of time, and almost no
repetition which will, I hope, kill off any idea that Movement 1 is simply
minimalist. Anyway, I'm a lot happier with the piece now and I feel the first
main section is justified when it appears.
- I now have to revise
that section to make it less repetitive for the strings and to insert some
of the figures from the introduction and elsewhere. The piece is growing!
- I also have to compose
the fractal duet up to the Poltair moment. I reckon if I can now draw all
the lines to that point, I will have a good springboard from which to leap
into the fast and furious "shock" section.
Back to top
- The theme of bells is
beginning to dominate my thinking for Movement 1. So many of the soundfiles
seem to have bell-like characteristics. Descending "peals" from
Saltash and and Newquay Tretherras. Bell-like resonance from Torpoint and
Looe (those pianos slowed right down). The modem sounds bell-like to me too
- and I like the idea that peals of bells have been used in the past for communication
between towns and villages.
- I have just completed
the passage from Torpoint to Looe, via Launceston. This is 48 bars of music,
starting with the big build-up of guitar harmonics from the Torpoint file
and heading to the slowed-down Looe pianos. During this passage the Launceston
synth file is heard four times, blending with unusual textural orchestration
to create a dense bell-like sound.
- This is very difficult
to capture using Midi, so I will have to resort to showing a section of the
score and describing what is happening. Here are two image files of bars 90-95
: number 1 shows the woodwind and brass at the top of the score;
- number 2 shows the strings
at the bottom;
- I've used change-ringing
patterns (a Plain Course of Grandsire Doubles, for campanologists!) to order
the sequence of events here, but the continuing series of sextatonic scales
(nos. 18-40) for the pitches.
- However, that's just
the beginning. To create interesting textures, I have all the strings play
artificial harmonics at different rates, each with a "blossom" on
the note. Artificial harmonics are produced by fingering the given note, then
lightly touching the string at the point shown by the diamond notehead. The
resulting sound is two octaves higher than the fingered note and very pure
- Now look at the Oboe
and Clarinet lines. The notation here is unusual, with jagged lines in place
of the conventional note stems. This is a notation for multiphonics - more
than one note produced at a time by a single instrument. These are notoriously
variable and difficult to control, so I have not required precise sounds.
Instead the notation means "play a multiphonic including one or both
of the given notes", which leaves a fair amount of freedom for the players
to produce good strong sounds.
- The multiphonics and
string harmonics blend together to create a slow-moving texture above the
more rhythmical Horn, Bassoon and Cello parts. The Horn notes are often marked
'fp', which produces a fairly convincing bell sound. The Cellos play pizzicato
(plucked strings) and they are capable of providing a great deal of resonance
themselves, as well as marking out the rhythm quite strongly.
- The overall effect of
this passage will at first be surprising, even chaotic, but as people listen
they will start to pick out patterns and shifts in texture, hopefully to good
effect. The Launceston file will bind this whole section together, almost
a "natural" sound woven into the artificial soundscape.
- Good progress today.
Completed the opening section, to bar 69, apart from the decorative flute-bass
duet. Here are two MIDI files of the result, the first
set to General Midi norms (this should work best through internal soundcards)
and the second is not (I'll leave it to you
to select appropriate sounds here).
- I've also done quite
a lot of work on audio editing the opening, and have decided to reinstate
Ben Kitt's modem sound as the first thing you hear.
- I've applied a great
deal of reverb to the second half of it, and out of it will emerge the Saltash
'relax.wav'. This has "tremolo" applied at first, giving it a shaky
hesitant feel, but when it settles to its full texture, the orchestra will
enter with the material in the MIDI file.
- This leads to the Torpoint
1 soundfile of guitars playing a diminished chord, to which I have also applied
a reverb-type process to make the build-up even bigger. Out of that will emerge
the lovely rolling synth sounds of the Launceston file, and the flute-bass
duet will really take off at this point.
- I've also jumped ahead
to the Looe pianos, which will follow Launceston, and have created a sequence
based on the simple riff, which I will work on more tomorrow. Midifile of
this will follow soon.
- In the process, I tried
excessively slowing down the Looe pianos. They produce wonderful deep bell-sounds,
which I think I'll use, perhaps in the second movement or perhaps here - I
need to sleep on it.
- Work on Movement 1.
- First, I've organised
all the schools' soundfiles in a geographical sequence, reading East to West,
- Newquay Tretherass
- Humphrey Davy
- I will not hesitate
to alter this sequence, if necessary, in order to create an optimum musical
effect, but for the moment the above is the running-order. I'll use only one
soundfile per school, and I'll use soundfiles *not* used in this Movement
in other Movements. (Ben Kitt's modem will open Movement 2, not this Movement.)
- The compositional task,
- 1. create a connecting
sequence to link the soundfiles
- 2. write the fractal
duet for flute and double-bass around this
- Link 1:
- The Saltash soundfile
is an attractive repetitive tune with some accompanying synth chords and splashy,
dolphin-like sounds. It's atmosphere is relaxing, and the soundfile is called
- The Torpoint sound is
a build-up of a diminished chord - D/F/Ab/B - played on electric guitars.
- The Saltash tune contains
six notes in a descending scale-pattern - C/B/A/G/E/D - and sets off an idea
for a structure which will influence the entire movement. Apart from the given
sequence, there are 140 possible six-note patterns within one octave (with
no interval bigger than three semitones).
- Taking a cue from the
repetitive style of the Saltash soundfile, I have laid out all 140 patterns
in a random sequence (by drawing them one by one from a bag).
- Click HERE
to download a Midi file of them all, in random sequence.
- Coincidentally, 140
beats per minute is the tempo of the Saltash soundfile, which breaks down
into a four-bar phrase comprising two 2-bar phrases which are nearly identical.
To state all 140 scale patterns, allowing 4 bars (4 beats per bar) per scale
pattern at 140 bpm, will therefore take 16 minutes - a nice duration for Movement
- I'd like to think of
this method as "shifting modalities" (where a "modality"
refers to any scale pattern). The 140 sextatonic modes (six-note scale patterns)
will be present throughout, but the requirements of
- subsequent soundfiles
will mean that they disappear for long periods, perhaps only present in the
flute-doublebass duet. But their constant presence will provide an underlying,
randomised logic to the Movement.
- I love using chance,
and I also love using constraints. I find them both satisfying and productive.
I also like the idea of being exact about something inexact - just like a
map of a coastline fixes something which, as we all know, is constantly changing.
- Anyway, for Link 1 the
process is established: repetitive four-bar phrases using the sextatonic scales
in their random order until we hit one containing the notes D/F/Ab/B, at which
point we reach Torpoint's guitars.
- In order to make the
resulting music more interesting, I will not repeat each four-bar phrase exactly.
I'll change the orchestration, the rhythms, the chord voicings, and anything
else I can think of - the structure will enable some free invention!
- Just back from an enjoyable
couple of days in Cornwall attending the Music Advisory Service's conference,
where I addressed music teachers about music technology and met some of the
contributors to Symphony for Cornwall from Newquay Thretherras and Penrice
Schools, as well as teachers from most of the participating schools and elsewhere.
- Over the two days the
form of the Symphony became clearer still, and sound design began to play
a part in the overall concept. Here's the current state of play:
- Movement 1.
- Flute and Double Bass
duet to follow the north and south coastlines of Cornwall respectively. The
flute will start on Piccolo, move through Flute and Alto Flute, to end on
Bass Flute at 'Lands End'. The double bass will be amplified and using effects
pedals, including an octave doubler at the Lizard. Bass mostly pizzicato.
This duet will frame a "join the dots" sequence in the rest of the
orchestra, connecting all the soundfiles one by one in sequence. The compositional
challenge will be to make a convincing transition from one to the next.
- Movement 2.
- Electronic sounds meet
natural sounds. The orchestra will take an accompanimental role here (perhaps
the electronics will be on tape?) and the movement will explore textures and
- Movement 3.
- Dance-based, using the
tunes sent in from various schools. The soundfiles themselves will not be
used in this movement, so it will be just orchestral, but the music in the
soundfiles will be used...if that makes sense.
- Sound Design:
- Movement 1 - begin outdoors,
loud, wild... progress to a cavern.
- Movement 2 - inside
the cavern, echoing, vast...move towards a hall
- Movement 3 - begin in
a hall, good acoustic...move into a bedroom (real chamber music!)
Thus, overall, a gradual "homing-in" on the sound of the acoustic
instruments in the orchestra.
- Visual design:
- Movement 1 - digital
map of Cornwall
- Movement 2 - Chthugha-type
audio-responsive VR environment
- Movement 3 - photographs?
- Further - click here
for one of the soundfiles from Newquay Tretherras school with "ping-pong"
delay of 1.2 seconds at an intensity of 80%. The resulting effect resembles
a peal of bells. See the message board for further
discussion on my work.
- Well...the life of a
composer is never straightforward! Since the last diary entry, I have been
up to my neck in preparations for the forthcoming premiere of 'Island Symphony'
at University of Hertfordshire (Hatfield Campus) on February 7th. This is
an orchestration of my electroacoustic piece of the same name, and I have
had to completely rewrite the massive first movement, as well as prepare score
and parts for full orchestra.
- On top of all that,
I find that my study-leave is not quite as free as I would have liked, with
a number of important meetings to attend, and about 100 assessments to do
over the next week or two. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on 'Symphony for Cornwall'...
- However, all this should
not lead to the conclusion that I've done no work. This is an important phase
of the composition, when much of the activity is taking place inside my head
"in the background". I'll attempt to describe some of it.
- The first item is the
question of form. There are several constraining factors here: firstly, the
orchestra is essentially an early-Classical/late-Baroque line-up (two oboes,
two bassoons, but only one flute and one clarinet), which tends to suggest
that a Haydn-esque approach to form will work best; secondly, the sound-files
have tended to form into groups as described earlier, and these combinations
give rise to some formal ideas which I'll describe in a moment; thirdly, I
want to make the form clear so that my audience will have a good chance of
following what is happening.
- Second item is the issue
of style. Various of the sound-files contain stylistic overtones, in particular
the "composed" musical ones, and some of the rock-style electric-guitar
based ones. In general, I want to make a piece which is stylistically accurate
in terms of the sound-files, but which also presents an engaging and agreeable
surface to the listener. Stravinsky's 'Dumbarton Oaks' and Satie's 'Parade'
are pieces which keep popping into my mind as potential models.
- Over the past few weeks,
I've been milling around the sound-files in my head, trying different combinations
and seeing whether these give rise to any ideas which might form into a movement.
This process is not over yet, but I do seem to have fastened upon the following
- Movement 1 - using all
the sound-files in a "geographical" sequence, with the map of Cornwall
"read" from east to west as a kind of graphic score of the piece,
and the individual soundfiles located geographically as they occur. Thus the
coastline becomes a fractal melodic line, and the physical landscape becomes
the body of orchestral sound against which the electronic sounds "wash
up". I'm going to get hold of some good digital satellite maps to help
with this, and these could become the visual backdrop for this movement.
- Movement 2 - electronic/natural
sounds. An "atmosphere" movement, combining and uniting the natural
sounds (sea, bags, talking, gulls, dolphins, etc. etc.) with the electronic
sounds (modem, electric guitars, synth sounds, etc. etc.). A loose and organic
form - what might be called "grey area" music (neither classical
nor rock, neither ambient nor collage, neither musique concrete nor electronische
- Movement 3 - dance.
Tightly structured and jolly, using the various "tunes" that have
come in, including folk dance material, scherzos, simple melodies, MIDI sequences
etc. The syncopated flute tune from Looe community school seems to be the
initial binding element here.
- I hope to have some
preliminary sketches for all of these ready by the beginning of February,
so please keep logging on!
- Yesterday was the first
orchestral workshop with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, and I learned a great
deal from it. The orchestra were very nice to me and patiently played through
some quite variable material, pointing out problems where they occurred. I
have no recordings of the session to put up on the website because this would
have turned it into a "recording session", incurring extra costs.
- The band is quite top-heavy,
which suggests to me that I should consider low frequency ranges carefully
when editing the soundfiles. The players are, of course, all excellent musicians,
which means they have a beautiful sound with lots of expression. This is great
when the music suits it, but it does mean that it is hard to escape that "classical
- The three sketches -
"Modem/AndyB", "Nightscape" and "Riff Sketch"
were all designed to explore different techniques and aspects of the orchestra.
Of the three, only the first derives directly from soundfiles received: in
this case, the bell-like modem sounds of Ben Kitt's contribution, combined
with the double-bass harmonics at the end of Andy Baker's soundfile. The result
worked well and I'll definitely use it, if only for a short period. It had
a grainy texture, with shifting textures created by the woodwind playing multiphonics
(i.e. split notes, with more than one note at a time) and the strings divisi
playing artificial harmonics (very high, pure sounds), whilts the rest of
the band imitated bell sounds low down.
- 'Nightscape' didn't
really work, with drifting melodic shapes played in fluid, variable patterns,
with some complex cross-rhythms all at a very slow tempo. The main problem
was rhythmic synchronisation between voices. Also unison and octave passages
did not sound too good from an intonation point of view, and some of the material
was just too difficult to play without an enormous amount of work. However,
some of the flute writing sounded great, and there were some lovely moments
including some effective chord voicings which I will use again.
- 'Riff Sketch' was highly
repetitive, which produced a certain degree of boredom for the players, I
think. The music was jolly enough, but again the rhythmic aspects need care.
The band is not so strong on syncopated or highly articulated material, tending
instead to work better when the music has room to breathe. There was also
a balance problem, with a bassoon solo not really penetrating the ensemble.
I also learnt about the contrabassoon (for which I have never written before!),
and I think I've probably resolved not to include one - they are weak and
- In general, I would
say that I learnt that the best news from the players' point of view would
be music that is: reasonably playable but which nevertheless presents some
challenges; that is tightly composed, even Classical in character (i.e. pre-Beethoven-ish)
but which nevertheless has room for expression; that can use extended techniques,
repetition and other contemporary devices, but not to excess. I think a great
deal of the new sounds in the finished Symphony will come from the electronics.
It seems pointless to upset the orchestra, musically speaking, so the great
challenge will be to reconcile the two worlds.
- The orchestra graciously
received the 'St. George's Island Chorale', despite an initial hiccup when
it emerged that I had mis-transposed the oboe d'amore part by hitting "min3
down" instead of "min3 up" in my notation software (Finale)!
It's the kind of mistake I would never have made in the days when I hand-copied
all my materials. On the other hand, I'd never have been able to produce so
much music in two weeks in those days. Anyway, fortunately I had a concert
pitch copy of the part to hand, so the melody was played on oboe, which worked
- OK, here is the first
in a series of descriptions of operations performed on soundfiles, as requested
by the Newquay Treferras School contingent during the live online discussion
- Today's topic is Normalisation.
This is a technique applied to a waveform to bring overall levels (volume)
up to a standard mean. The software (Soundmaker, in this case) reads the waveform
and selects the highest and lowest peaks, then identifies a mean point between
them based on all the other activity. It then raises the mean point until
the highest peak just avoids 'clipping' or distortion, and then adjusts all
the digital information accordingly. The result is clearer sound, outputting
at a standardised volume level. It is usually good practice to normalise every
- Here's an example, using
the Penryn College sound. First, the original soundfile as I received it (I
have trimmed this to just the first few seconds for the purposes of this example
in order to save your download time. The whole soundfile will be used in the
Symphony): Click here to play Penryn trimprov.wav
- And click here
to see the screenshot of what the waveform looks like in Soundmaker.
- Now listen to this trnorm.wav
after normalisation. Click here to see
Penryn norm.gif and see the difference to the waveform.
- Thanks for the discussion
yesterday, everybody. I enjoyed it! I hope I answered people's questions satisfactorily.
If there's anything you'd like to take up, please post a message on the message
- So...off we go! All
the soundfiles have now arrived from schools and, after a quietish period,
I now feel like I can start composing. Well, almost...some of the Bournemouth
Sinfonietta musicians want to contribute sounds too, so I'll have to give
them a week or two to do so.
- Nevertheless, I have
some preliminary thoughts. First, all the sounds are terrific! The quality
of the recordings and the variety of the ideas mean that I have plenty to
work with. I think I'll probably end up with Movements in the Symphony - originally
I'd thought I might do a single movement piece - because the sound files divide
up into distinct groups, as follows:
1) "Electronic" sounds, including modem, synth sounds, speech synthesis,
- 2) "Environmental"
sounds, including plastic bottles, sea and gulls, dolphins, etc.
- 3) "Musical"
sounds, including instrumental solos, MIDI compositions, etc.
- My first step will be
to make a complete list of these and, using digital editing, see whether I
can create any links between them...
- My first step? Not quite,
for I have an even more pressing need - to prepare some material for the first
orchestral workshop on DECEMBER 8th. Not long! Here are some ideas so far:
1. layered multiphonics and pizzicato strings (from the modem/double bass
- 2. rapid figuration
drifts and cries (sea, gulls, etc)
- 3. exploring texture
I'll put scores and MIDI files of these up on the website when they're done.
I'm almost certain that whatever I do at this stage will be thrown away in
the finished composition, but I do want to try out some textures and colours,
and get a feel for the orchestra.
I also want to make a donation to the orchestra of my short piece 'St George's
Island Chorale'. I hope this gesture will be seen as friendly and do something
to get the orchestra 'on my side' - I'm going to need all their support and
Anyway, I'm at that exciting first stage of a composition. Everything I know
about the piece is jostling and jumbling in my head and I'm waiting to grow
some form and structure from it all.
- Some thoughts about
working method - I'll use Cubase VST 4.0 to sequence a MIDI mock-up of the
Symphony, with the sound-files played as audio tracks and the original composition
as MIDI tracks. Using an Akai S3000 sampler with a good selection of string,
wind and French horn sounds and articulations, should produce a reasonable
approximation to the finished piece. This can then be put on the website as
it appears. The other advantage of this method is that the score and parts
can then be extracted from the MIDI files using Finale or the Score pages
- Symphony for Cornwall
is launched! There were broadcasts on Radio Leicester, Radio Cornwall and
Westcountry TV news. BBC Radio 3 did a feature on 'Music Matters' on Sunday,
including an interview with Graham Devlin of the Arts Council, as well as
- The Hall
for Cornwall launch was an exciting occasion and seemed to generate a
good deal of enthusiasm, as well as a little controversy. After meeting the
orchestra and hearing them rehearse and perform, I am confident that the piece
will sound great. I asked Richard Studt, their in-house conductor, if he would
like to conduct the piece. He was delighted to do so.
- With Sound Designer
Paul Gatehouse I discussed various possibilities for the sound design of Symphony
- The project was relaunched
this morning at a glittering occasion in London, with Chris Smith MP, Secretary
of State for Culture, and others giving it and other 'New Audiences' schemes
enthusiastic backing. This should be covered on today's news bulletins.
- But, on to the real
business... the sound-file from Penair School contains a couple of good tunes,
and an interesting parallel-harmony accompaniment which is very usable. The
problem is that the soundfile lasts so long. It's a finished composition,
rather than a "sound-bite". I'm going to have to find out if they
are willing to let me make a selection from it, or if they want to make a
- If other schools/teachers
are reading this, please note: the time-limit is 10-15 seconds. I don't mind
a little bit more, but I don't want a finished piece - I'm not willing to
mess about with someone else's finished composition!
- Mahler said a Symphony
should contain the world, contain everything. It is a "sounding together",
an inclusive form. On the other hand, it is not just a collection of music
- it has to have some kind of structural unity.
- 'Symphony for Cornwall'
is unusual, because my task is to "grow" the piece from received
music which cannot possibly have any unity apart from the fact that it was
made in Cornwall.
- Mahler did not have
digital technology. Such a project would not have been possible until a few
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by Judith Netscher