17 July 2012

badluck birds! Part 1

I've been working over several months on my second commission for Handel House, for the brilliant recorder ensemble Consortium 5, who perform a mixture of early music and pioneering new commissions.

The piece is entitled badluck birds; it forms another part of my current musical output using birds in some way - my current obsession! This year I've already written a set of 8 songs based on British birds in folklore for my folk project, You Are Wolf, which exists in its original version for me on vocals, loop station and various other bits and bobs plus Andy my husband on bass guitar, and also in a more experimental-classical incarnation for me plus string quartet and clarinet. You can find out more about that here! I also wrote a piece for the piano duo, duoDorT, with loop station and me as a speaker, at Aldeburgh last year, which took birds as a theme. This commission explores the lore of birds again, but without voices: I bought a beautiful secondhand book, 'All The Birds Of the Air' by Francesca Greenoak, which details the regional names, lore and literature of birds in the UK, and chose three who were sometimes thought to bring bad luck as my subjects to use as inspiration for three separate movements.

The first is Scribblie, a regional word for a yellowhammer; the second Bog-Drum, for the bittern; and the third is Scrietch, for the mistle-thrush. The high concept for this piece was to break down the barriers between composer and audience, and create a flexible piece of music that could be re-arranged by the public. I'm really interested in loops and layers as a performer, and particularly in how to make these continue to be interesting, and not predictable building blocks. For the first two movements, I wrote linear material for all five recorders in sections, imagining at any one time that any combination of the players, from solo to all five, might be happening. The idea will be that an audience can choose, before the gig, which of the performers will be playing in each section.

Scrietch has turned into an altogether different (flying) beast. I am developing, with the help of a wonderful web-maker, Vincent Van Uffelen, and a filmmaker, Pete Gomes, a website where visitors can really make their own version of the piece, which exists only as 51 fragments of sound! Online arrangers will be able to watch videos of the players individually performing their 10 or so bits of material, and then pull a track version down onto a timeline, which will sync to the nearest second. They can freely arrange this material however they like.

We've so far recorded the audio up at Sound Solution in Hackney, and yesterday filmed at Handel House, with the girls looking beautiful and poised whilst being absolute synchronisation demons and playing along to the existing audio perfectly. Next time I blog about this I'll be introducing you to the website itself... excitement!

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