Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Message to Myself

The process of composing music, for me, is a game. Given one or two seed ideas, it then becomes a matter of copying and pasting, starting with something quite simple and then using this to build a piece that has enough twists and turns to become musically interesting and satisfying. It's a minimalist approach as the fragments that I copy and paste become repetitive and layered, perhaps distributed among the different instrument parts in overlapping ways. The game is to make it work as a whole. Even the most simple musical fragment can quickly become uncontrollably complex so, I suppose, the craft is in maintaining the simplicity while adding in the interest.

The history of modern art, from impressionism to contemporary abstractions, is particularly useful for inventing associations with musical ideas. The closest I can get to relating my copy-and-paste method with a visual form is that of the cut-out-and-pasted pictures made by Henri Matisse in his later years. His quite crude juxtapositions of colours and shapes, collaged together are often abstract, sometimes more figurative, sometimes somewhere in between.  Whatever, they are all expressions of an inner artistic force or experience.

I like having a title first.  That seed brings forth musical expression; sucks inner experience into the outside world to become the building blocks dropped into my computer software.  I had always thought of this particular composition process as simple and naive in a childish way - a child could have done it.  But I value composing like this as something not to move on from having learned how to do it, but on which to focus more, to value and to hone.  It makes inventing or purloining titles, then composing, a pleasure; not a chore. All I am doing is playing the game.

If you'd like to listen to one or two samples: billanderton.uk/compositions.html

Sunday, 4 February 2018

A Postcard from the Volcano

Camille Saint-Saƫns (1835-1921) is credited with introducing the genre of descriptive orchestral work to France and many people will be familiar with, for example, the spooky depiction of death, Danse macabre, used as the signature tune for the Jonathan Creek TV series. You'll find a selection of these symphonic poems recently published on Naxos.

I like the idea of having a title which will attach itself to the music. Danse macabre is so much more helpful to the imagination than Symphonic Poem, No. 3. With the title, the music is a danse macabre, without it's an abstraction that could equally be a depiction (to me) of an unkind practical joke, or a crime with a funny side; or - and nothing wrong with this - just a piece of music. Don't get the idea that I need a title before a piece of music will come alive in the imagination. It can help, it works, and may be a way in to appreciating the music more fully, or of getting to grips with contemporary music which has no easy way in.

When it comes to writing, rather than listening, I like to have a title in mind before a single note has been written. The title works for me as an imaginative seed. I'm finding that the somewhat open-ended titles given to the poems and pictures of the Symbolist movement are particularly effective as the launch point for a new piece.  How about: On the Manner of Addressing Clouds; or, Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion; or, A Postcard from the Volcano; or, Two Figures in Dense Violet Night. I particularly like the last two. All of these are titles of poems by the symbolist poet, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) from his anthology, Harmonium, a sufficiently musical title in itself.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Back Door - Review

I just spent a few days up north and was reminded of a pub I visited from time to time many years ago on the N. York. moors on Blakey Ridge close by Rosedale. It's a beautiful place in the summer and bleak in the winter. On the ridge is the 'pub at Blakey', or more precisely the Lion Inn. Two out of three of the band who played there are dead now, but their first album was my first truly great one. I had progressed somewhat, musically speaking, since an opening vinyl purchase featuring Adge Cutler and the Wurzles, a statement surely worthy of an exclamation mark. Back Door came soon after.

There's a vogue these days for virtuoso electric bass players, but, I'm guessing, the bass player in this band was the first to turn his instrument into bass, rhythm and lead all in one and without any overdubs, too. Back Door were Ron Aspery, Alto and Soprano Sax and Flute; Colin Hodgkinson, Fender Bass; Tony Hicks, Drums. Their jazz-rock style is infused with furiously fast melody lines played in unison on all three instruments, contrasted with atmospheric slowies that invoke the bleak moorland and the sheep outside the lonely pub's back door.

My vinyl of Back Door is playable but noisy in the way that vintage vinyl is, so their music was well worth the media change to CD. (I prefer CD, not download, btw, with its insert from the original album cover. I'll still play the vinyl version from time to time.) This is music from the early seventies so, if you are a contemporary music type, just keep in mind that this is well past the time of Stockhausen, who all of us are trying still to get to grips with. I'm not easily thrilled by music these days. This music continues to do it for me.

It's possible that the mistake Back Door made was signing with Warner Brothers when they had an early offer from the virgin Virgin Records who were then just about to make it big and take many new bands with them.  Back Door had their day in the lime light though and deserve to be revisited; as is the Lion if you are ever passing that way.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Great Year - And Next?

Ever mindful of the way our Newent Orchestra might progress, I've been giving thought to what we can do next and how we might develop it (or not!).  Membership has continued to grow and, along with that, arise new opportunities and new problems to be dealt with. The question is how to maintain the best of what we have while allowing change to happen. During our last term we tried a new concert schedule with an extended season finishing in June, so that an additional concert could be encompassed. It was a successful move. But what next?

Everyone has their own ideas and wish list. Here's an outline of mine, including a little blue sky thinking. Personally, I'm more enthusiastic about the new than the old. I see the merit in introducing people who are new to classical music to the wonders of its classics, but my own penchant is for something I've heard less often and has more relevance to me as a creature of the 20th and now 21st centuries. Imagine my surprise as a fan of composer, Jonathan Harvey (look him up), when I became hooked on some old-time romantic song music.

Old Time Music Hall began in the middle of the 19th century and was a presence in entertainment for about 100 years thereafter, declining only with the advent of radio and then TV and superceded by the musical songsmiths, such as our own Ivor Novello, by jazz and the big band era. It had some great tunes and words that, I suppose, spoke directly to its audience about human emotion and relationships, about life. The serious classical composers, too, dealt with questions of the human condition but have been placed on a plane more to do with existential philosophy than raw emotion, love and laughter. However, those music halls were in some ways akin to classical opera with its rowdy, expressive audiences who were as likely to boo their villains as cheer their favourites.

When I first joined, Newent Orchestra would present traditional classical concerts, consisting of an overture, followed by a guest soloist, then a symphony. That was great music to play but, as an amateur orchestra, was not an audience magnet. Then we began to play shorter, more entertaining pieces from the classical repertoire, providing programmes of much greater variety. That worked well. The 'variety' approach would appear to be our strength and is probably the area that, rather than moving on from, we should develop. It's the direct communication that audiences like and respond to, the 'we're all in this together', loving and laughing, being touched by the music, the performance and the 'old-time' togetherness. Those are just a few thoughts. Make of them what you will.