A Step Too Far


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During the past few months I have been experimenting, considering and reflecting upon processes of composition that could inspire the new work Deranged Drums On Digital Vistas.  As you can tell from the recent blogs, it has not been going very well.  Lots of procrastination and thoughts about subjects other than composition, still relevant to my musical world, but nothing about creating music.

It has taken since November to find a direction I am motivated to follow, the electro-acoustic and studio routes have been an interesting diversion but I have resolved to produce a work for concert performance.  The composition will use all the melodies that keep arriving in my head coupled with the interesting possibilities of sound I have found from experimenting with percussion instruments during the recent months.  Not many new ideas here then, if you look at the catalogue of works I have already produced over the years, but read on.  There are many different and exciting possibilities to explore.

My time in the studio has not been wasted, I have over two hours of recordings that need detailed descriptions (instrument, size and material, stick or mallet used, combination with…) and cataloguing (the detail of sounds and instruments that many composers do not stipulate when writing for percussion).  These recordings are of me playing with percussion instruments, bowing, singing, combining them together, setting one vibrating from another and assessing and dividing the results into intimate/studio sounds or those that could be used during an acoustic concert.

The other part to this new composition, the tunes, are being notated as they come to me and these lead lines are filling the single sided manuscript book that I put together.  On the blank page, opposite the melody, I am drawing the contour of the notes.  See the following examples.

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The graphic representations of the melodies will allow me to structure the composition.  I have been photographing landscapes, looking from Yorkshire (where I now reside) over the Pennines towards Lancashire (where I was born).  The photographs have been taken on a mobile phone, orientated as portrait or vista images rather than landscape or panoramic views.  This series of images has been printed and placed together, in a similar way to David Hockney’s Composite Polaroids, to create a panorama.  From this I am taking the horizon line and other prominent visual features, converting these into graphic representations and then matching the two graphics (musical and pictorial) to define the order of the melodies.

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What is new and interesting to me in this composition process is the way that I will use the musical material.  My previous methods of working would have invariably stated a theme, which would be repeated with variations and refinements, with most of the subsequent musical material being developments or influenced by this main idea.  The new work will not have any repetition of ideas, once each idea has been stated the music will move to the next idea.  This could have a disjointed or unconnected result but as I am inspired during the next few months I expect many of the melodies to have the continuity of my personal musical signature.

Another concept I have planned in the work is that of choice, there will be many ways to perform the composition.  It will all be scored, with no improvisation, but will have the flexibility to be interpreted in many ways with hundreds of different possible versions.  How this is achieved will be explained in a future blog, when I have finalised the work.

Trying to be inspired by investigating different theories and practices has allowed me to reconsider my own views and methods of working.  I approached some unfamiliar musical attitudes with interest and eventually found some of the thinking a step too far from my compositional standpoint.  I am very pleased that I studied these ideas as the consequence is my new enthusiasm for composition.  The composing of Deranged Drums On Digital Vistas has a plan and a process, I will be working with a fresh and radical musical system and I have new-found inspiration and creativity.  Just need a percussion group to perform it and the process is complete.

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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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