One sound idea kept appearing in my mind, I knew the music, but from where? After looking at some hand written playlists on cassette sleeves and listening to tracks in my collection of recordings I found it. The driving hi-hat on the Weather Report track “Teen Town”, originally written and performed by Jaco Pastorius (he played bass guitar and drums on this track) from the “Heavy Weather” album was the inspiration for my new idea. The version of “Teen Town” I remembered was not the album track but the live version from the tour in 1978 when I saw them at Manchester Apollo. It was faster than the original album track and had a more exciting drive, performed by Peter Erskine on drums. The band had been playing the track live for a few months and as a result it had a different quality and intensity than the studio version. Touring with my own band Legends during the early 1980s made me realise how regular live performances of works can establish the most appropriate tempo, groove and interpretation, then is the time to record the definitive version.
The rhythmic idea that had come to mind is a two semiquaver (1/16 note) quaver (1/8 note) closed (+) and open (o) hi-hat rhythm, ex.1, which acts as the incessant constant that supports the instrumental throughout. My use of the idea was to alternate time signatures between 8/8 and 7/8 in the riff/melody parts, (marimba and timpani) with the repeating ex.1 figure maintaining an 8/8 pattern. This changes the relationship of the figure to the riff/melody during the opening, ex.1 and ex.2. Later I use another development ex.3, to add more rhythmic interplay during subsequent reiterations of the riff/melody ideas.
Ex. 1 Ex. 2 Ex.3
The first results of this process can be heard on SoundCloud, http://soundcloud.com/music-54-4/ “Peripheral Vision”. The vibraphone should be at the far right and the marimba far left in the stereo, (this may have been compromised during the transfer process during uploading). The panning is to give the effect of these instrumental sounds being at the edges, or periphery, to the main central drum sounds (cymbals, tom toms and timpani) but they should still have a noticeable effect. (Experimenting with live performance staging may require the vibraphone and marimba to be positioned in the wings to achieve this effect.)
The riff/melody used (marimba and timpani) arrived in my consciousness at the same time as the initial idea. The 8/8, 7/8 idea was apparent during these first thoughts and the function of the riff/melody was always to enhance the drum sounds. In my experience, this is not the usual way of considering composition for drums, the drum part is often thought of as time-keeper or groove-maker and then forgotten or the drummer is expected to perform “loops” as would a sequencer. The third idea that arrived during this inspirational time was for flashes in sound (vibraphone) to appear during the composition. These sounds were to give a more unpredictable quality to the music as well as develop the texture of the sound as the composition progressed.
With the three ideas noted, I then selected a key for the riff/melody that would be most appropriate for the timpani. The instrument has a limited range and balancing with the other drum sounds meant choosing pitches that would be most effective. (In the timpani catalogues it does state the largest diameter drum can reach C, two octaves below middle C and the smallest drum A or B just below middle C. As with notes at the extremes of any instrument, these notes need to be performed a specific way to be effective. The quieter the lower notes are performed, the more resonance and accurate idea of pitch can be achieved, the higher notes, near middle C, have very little resonance and decay, sometimes not matching the sound from the other timpani). Taking all these factors into consideration allowed a limited number of effective timpani notes for this composition, the octave downwards from the F below middle C.
With the key set, I quickly wrote the first forty-five seconds of music. My next idea was a contrasting section with the timpani stating a rhythmic figure in 8/8 whilst the hi-hat figure ex.1 moved emphasis within the phrase. Ideas for new melodies and riffs came to me as the work was evolving and a third section took shape. In this section I transferred the hi-hat ideas from the opening to the tom toms, the key centre changes down a tone and the dynamic is quieter. The melody is developed as a round between marimba, vibraphone and timpani and the section is completed with a revised repeat of material from final section of the first idea.
On the recording there is then one bar of a section that changes tempo and places three riff/melody ideas together. This may be the way the music continues but I am undecided. Watch this blog for future developments.