It’s two years since CCD turned the Senate House inside out and filled it with laser beams and dancing bodies, as part of the University’s 800th anniversary celebrations. For two nights this august space pulsed with the movement of newly-made dance, including one that I wrote with choreographer Isobel Cohen (other scores were written by Ewan Campbell and David Earl, and also, at several centuries’ distance, Christopher Tye). The events were captured on video, but sound quality was less than thrilling; I’m delighted that it’s now been possible to clean up the recording of the piece Isobel and I wrote and I’m putting it up here where it can be seen and heard.
The dancers are all members of Cambridge Contemporary Dance: the piece takes as its theme Isaac Newton’s experiments with light and colour. See for yourself: Light/Dance
I posted earlier this summer about a new piece I wrote for recorder-player extraordinaire Robert de Bree. The piece is called Ladder of the Escaping Eye (a title from Miró: several of his paintings include a frail, spindly ladder, climbing steeply and improbably out of the picture-space. As in Landscape with rooster above). I had the idea that, as well as being done ‘straight’ as a solo recorder piece, it might also be interesting to make this into a film.
Robert came over and played the piece through in June, in Robinson College Chapel with its wonderful acoustic and glowing light, and I asked filmmaker Adriana Timco to film it for me. Later in the summer I was on holiday in a small village deep in France called Charras, which has a beautiful chateau, whose grounds are full of wonderfully crumbling stone staircases, and I took some video of them.
And later, back home, I had some fun putting them together into a short film. I’m no film maker – in fact I’d never even opened iMovie before – so it’s unashamedly cast in a homespun, rough-and-ready style, and it’s not going to win any prizes for technical finesse. I have no tripod, the video is hand-held and wobbly, the sound is low-resolution, and so on. But it was fun to do, and I do like the light on the stone at Charras, and the rhythmic repetition of steps and shadows. Anyway, see for yourself –
> Ladder of the Escaping Eye
Carmen-Elektra has pulled off another unforgettable evening, filling a huge disused warehouse with lights, staging, some seriously LARGE speakers, an orchestra, a bar, a dance troupe, singers (one of them dressed as a toy lion with sunglasses) and last but not least, a big, enthusiastic and wonderfully attentive audience.
This was a double bill of Terrible Lips, an exciting new opera by Kate Whitley, and my video opera A Sudden Cartography of Song. Performances of both pieces were committed and intense, drawing on Cambridge’s very best singers and players, conducted by Will Gardner and Harry Ogg. See more pictures of both pieces.
It was fantastic to have Alistair Appleton (who wrote the words and made the video) come to speak his own lines. And Alistair and I were delighted with the energy, professionalism and sheer beauty of the singing, and of the production, both imaginative and sensitive, by Thom Andrewes. All in all it was an evening to remember. Carmen Elektra believe that if you rescue new music from ‘old-music’ venues and etiquette, and let it do its own thing, people will want to hear it. They’re certainly making a good case with productions like this. There is talk of a Rite of Spring in a Peckham car park next. Not to be missed.
I’ve been writing a piece for recorder-player extraordinaire Robert de Bree, after hearing him at Kettle’s Yard recently. Somehow the ideas came out ladder-shaped, and started getting tangled up with some paintings by Joan Miró, whose currently the subject of an exciting exhibition at Tate Modern. What’s come out is a solo recorder piece of about 6 minutes, which can be performed ‘free-standing’, say, in a recital (we’re planning one for Amsterdam in 2012).
But I’m also tempted to explore the connections with Miró’s paintings, and with images of ladders and steps more generally, by developing the piece into something more multi-media. One plan is to make a film which explores a kind of snakes-and-ladders labyrinth against the sound (and at times, the sight) of Robert playing the piece. This could be viewed online, or screened as part of one of Robert’s live performances. Another idea is to set up some gallery performances which engage with paintings and perform amongst them. The Miró paintings would be fantastic – Tate Modern, are you listening?…
Last month I enjoyed the chance to hear a short piece for four horns and choir which I wrote a few years ago for the opening of an outdoor theatre. This is our Eden, a song of gardens, flowers and trees. It was beautifully performed by horns and singers alike – and it’ll be recorded on a CD this summer, along with the carol As Joseph was a-walking.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing a new piece for violin and piano, for Guy Button. Spring seemed to be what was in my mind, and a rather Italian, Vivaldi-ish spring too, hence the name Primavera. It’ll get its first two performances next month in London (GSMD, July 5) and Winchester (July 6).
Like anyone who’s sung in an Anglican church or chapel choir, I’ve sung these words many times, in many wonderful settings (and a few less wonderful ones, too). I had never set the Magnificat myself, though. And over Christmas, I suddenly felt drawn to have a go.
They are wonderful words. But it took a lot of work, reading and speaking them through again and again, to get to the point where I could actually approach them again as words, ideas. Until then, every phrase of the text immediately rang out with musical phrases from all the well-known settings which I’ve sung over the years til they’ve become engrained in my brain, and even if I managed to let go of the particular rhythms and shapes of that setting, I was still left with a sense of it that was already interpreted, pre-digested. Gradually, as I said the lines over and over, I felt I was beginning to clear some free space in my mind and strip my reading and thinking right back to the words themselves. And this was the place where I could begin to find some music of my own. I’ve now finished the Magnificat, and tried to focus on the feelings of awe as well as joy, the sense of realising something all-encompassing and fundamental. Now I need to start thinking about the Nunc Dimittis…
This is a play based on Susan Sellers’ novel about the artist Vanessa Bell and her fascinating, complex, extraordinary relationship with her novelist sister Virginia Woolf. This beautiful adaptation by Elizabeth Wright for two actors, and involving a moving backdrop based on Bell’s paintings is being produced by Moving Stories, and I’m writing the music. We’ve now started working on it, and the process is rather different from how I usually write. When I arrived after two weeks of rehearsals the actors and director had already done much wonderful work building up character history, body language, quirks of movement and so on, and the first few scenes were up and running.
I watched the scenes, and then asked them to run them again immediately, while I improvised on the piano, responding instinctively to the atmosphere, pace and direction of the scene. This means losing oneself in it and not trying to retain conscious control of what one is doing. Which is all very well, but it means that at the end, it’s often very hard to remember exactly what it was that you played, especially the bits where it really took off and flew. The solution was to video the sessions, and then play back and write up the bits which I want to use. Of course, from there, there’s a process of editing and fine-tuning which is more like how I normally compose. But the main part – responding to actors speaking and moving all around me, and just playing – and has been very refreshing for me.
The play opens in Aix en Provence in September, and then tours various theatres in the UK and also Krakow til September 2011.