Taking Stock – the discovery of “Percussive Storm” and other lost sound worlds


ImageLast week, I wanted to include a number of compositions on SoundCloud for a complete set of audio examples to compliment the blog.  All I could find was the new recording, “BlogWork 20/01/13” and that was it. 

This week I have spent hours searching through computers, hard discs, memory sticks, DVDs, CDs, piles of papers, folders, box files and old bags.  The search has revealed hours of recordings, over seventy compositions that I had forgotten about, reams of jottings, notes and directions as well as over twenty complete scores that had been safely stored for publishing.  (They were so safely hidden that had it not been for the detective work, they would have remained hidden).

All these musical surprises have been very enlightening.  Listening to works from 4, 5, 6 and 7 years ago has unearthed some surprises but mainly it has allowed me to evaluate, enjoy and criticise.  Some will be published, I am still interested and happy with these compositions, but a few will remain hidden.  The process of producing these ‘not to be published’ works has been instructive but I am not convinced by their worth.  I have always found it more efficient to move on to a new work rather than untangle and revise a previous idea, taking note of the positives and negatives that recent history can provide.

The act of taking stock may seem like something to do when you retire or grow old (no idea when these might happen) but taking a snapshot of where you are is very useful to understand how you could progress.  If you can understand where you are now, you can plan a future or at least move in a defined direction.  The discoveries of the past week have inspired new ideas for “Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas” as well as finding new works to share at http://soundcloud.com/music-54-4/

I have already uploaded “Percussive Storm” for you to listen to.  This work includes many of the composition ideas and processes I had been trying to include in live performance pieces, but using the medium of the recording studio for the first time.  The elements of chance and of not having the composition sound the same from one performance to the next have always appealed to me.  When I co-led the band Legends with Dave Tyas, I devised a system of numbered cues for different sections of the music to allow for this flexibility.  Many sections of the music I composed for the band had improvisations and this changed the sound of the work using the performer’s ideas and experience.

“Percussive Storm” was conceived one summer night.  A thunderstorm was rolling about the area, it did not seem to want to move on or blow itself out and I lay in bed for some time listening to the interesting sounds.  As I was awake, and the storm was still crashing around, I decided to record what was happening outside, with no idea how it would be used, but as a speculative recording and to see how good the Minidisc, with separate microphone, was at picking up such a wide frequency range.

Listening back to the recording a few days later, I was immediately drawn to the structure created by the rain and thunder sounds and the slow panning of the storm from one side to the other.  This was going to be the basis of a composition.  It would have to be completed in the studio but I could only gain regular access for one hour every Friday morning.  I drew up a plan for the composition, introduction – (pre-storm) of mainly wind chimes and bull-roarer, middle – storm recording with percussion, ending – no ideas, see what happens in the recording studio.

Using the studio to create the work with the chance and improvised elements was difficult for me.  I am a session musician, I know how to work and what is expected, I have worked on television and radio programmes, film soundtracks and commercial recordings, I work to clicks or monitor mixes, I had to change.

The introduction was recorded in a conventional way, devising layers of sound that complimented each other to produce the required effect.  For the main part of the work I decided to record one of the instrumental groups, tambourines, berimbau and kalimbas, cymbals… each week during one session but without monitoring what I was recording.  Each recording was completed with a recent memory of what had just been performed but not recorded to accompany or compliment as I was not listening back to any of the previous recordings.  The results gave the impression I was striving for, with some groups of instruments having a sense of coherence but the overall sound was not produced to a regular pulse or with pre-arranged/produced sections.

Before starting to record each Friday, I would listen to how the work was evolving and when I felt there were enough interesting sounds in the composition I stopped recording and started mixing.  As there was already a natural pan of storm from the recording, I used panning ideas on the instrumental groups, both to give them space to be heard in the mix but also to add interest during the work.  I experimented with layering the storm recording towards the end, to create a phasing effect which appealed to me, a little like being close to a swarm of bees.

The recording and mixing took about six months, during this time other compositions were commissioned, written or produced.  By the time the work was complete I was focussing my thoughts in a different direction and the composition was shelved on a hard disc (with back-up copies on DVD and in two computers).  I am considering producing an album of percussion works, it may eventually have to be a boxed set, each disc containing a selection of compositions from a period or inspired by a process.  Finding all the compositions last week has given me many more works to consider for inclusion in the box.

This week I have found taking stock to be exciting and energising but daunting, if I am to share all the compositions with the world, I have some more work to do.

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About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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