Wednesday 29 September 2010

Music for St Michael and All Angels

Today I've been to St Paul's Cathedral for Evensong, to hear the winning entry in the recent New Music Competition. There were 58 entrants, out of which one was chosen for the £1000 prize.

Andrew Cusworth chose the same text as I did for the competition, one previously used by Richard Dering in this gem (YouTube link). It was interesting to hear the difference in our approaches to it. I like to think that there are some similarities, and of course I can't make a fair comparison having heard his piece once and knowing mine rather better than that, but I think his is the better composition, both in terms of technical polish and in terms of suitability for that cathedral. So congratulations to Andrew Cusworth!

I struggled over my submission, trying to be faithful to the idea of angels as strange and terrifying beings, but also to stay within strict limits -- SATB + organ, under 4 minutes -- and keep the piece suitable for use in a liturgical setting. In the end I knew I hadn't quite managed the latter; what I wrote was too exciting, too dramatic, and too ragged round the edges to fit into a stately Evensong. I did start over several times with several versions of the text in English and Latin, and each time it seemed to demand such a treatment. Eventually I gave up, tidied up what I had and submitted that.

It doesn't look like Andrew's version is online. So, here is my version: Factum est silentium [PDF] [MIDI]. Of course, the midi version sounds like robots rather than angels, but that's always the way of these machines! As always this is released under a CC-BY-SA license. Perhaps in a different building with a different choir it will work better, or perhaps someone else can take my ideas and develop them.

It was while I was researching the Revelation-based text of Richard Dering's "Factum est silentium" that I happened across a blog which eventually led me to Dust, a blog I've been trying to keep up with and very much enjoying the last few days as its author has been to a very shiny conference. (He quotes Christopher Smart in his subtitle, too.) My own research into psalmody has mostly consisted of reading a lot and doing some singing, and is much less advanced; I expect that much of the Oxford Psalms Conference would have been beyond my grasp. Nevertheless, I'm really glad to have found this rather random connection, which I might not have otherwise stumbled upon.

Monday 27 September 2010

Going loopy

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have caught me going on about something called "looping" or "live looping".

Basically this involves recording oneself playing and then playing back the recording within the same performance; in this way one can accompany oneself. There are all sorts of fantastic machines to assist in the process.

I'm interested for a few reasons. One is finally, finally getting around to listening to Zoe Keating over on Bandcamp, which seems to be where the cool kids are releasing albums these days, and reading an interview on her creative process. Another is the simple augmentation that looping can give to solo horn.

I love chamber music, and I hope it will always be part of my working life, but it always seems to result in a lot of time getting tied up, and a lot of effort arranging rehearsals. My main instrument growing up was the piano, which can be much more solitary; I am used to that sort of independence in my rehearsing and performing. Now, there is always unaccompanied horn repertoire, and indeed I want to learn more of it, but that is not exactly a bottomless well of material. Some of it is extremely technically demanding and it doesn't really appeal to a wide audience. Looping would allow me to do solo improvisation and could make me much more independent as a musician.

I think live looping could be incredible fun. I've always enjoyed improvising, and I recognise some similarities with my own inner world in the interview linked above: I, too, am seldom without music in my head, and very often it takes the form of short snippets which could be built into something else.

I'm not sure anyone else out there is doing much live looping on the horn; a quick search turned up one YouTube video. I think the horn might be quite well-suited to it, as are the cello and the electric bass: like the stringed instruments, the horn has a wide range of available tone colours and a decent compass in terms of pitch.

I'm a complete newbie to all of this, so at this point I'm just reading a bit, and thinking about whether to borrow or hire some equipment to play with. It would be a shame to buy it and then let it gather dust. But I'm also really excited about the musical possibilities, and it's good to have a horn-related project.

Further updates as events warrant...

Thursday 23 September 2010

Give Us Grace

Earlier this year, Rev Kathryn Fleming asked me to write something for the patronal festival of St Matthew's, Cainscross, which was this Tuesday. It needed to be something fairly simple, a round perhaps, something the congregation would be able to pick up quickly and sing at the service; it needed to be relevant to the occasion but useful for other situations as well.

I was happy to make an attempt, of course.

I found writing a round an interesting exercise. I've written one before, which I released anonymously, but that one was not something I set out to write, just one of the little ditties that turns up sometimes. Keeping melodic interest while not writing too many harmonic crunches was a challenge, especially at one point when I got a deceptive (that's interrupted to you Brits) cadence stuck in my head.

Give us grace [PDF] [MIDI] is the result. As usual, I have released it under a CC-BY-SA license; you are welcome to use this music, as long as you attribute me appropriately and as long as any derivative works are released under a similar license.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

With Merry Glee

Over two months after the actual performance, I'm finally sorting through some of the music the Brigantia Consort performed this summer.

The first track went up to Soundcloud just over a week ago; since then it has had 48 plays and six downloads. I promise you only one of the plays was me! I didn't advertise it very widely, and I know it might seem like small beans, but if those are unique plays rather than duplicates it has already been heard by over double the number of people who came to the concert. A larger concert audience would of course have been good (apparently, there was some sort of game involving kicking a ball around happening at the same time -- who knew it would affect our numbers?), but being able to reach people who couldn't be there is wonderful. The recordings were made, with the help of Dearest Button-Pusher, on a little Olympus LS-10 linear PCM recorder.

I'm not sure whether we'll keep using Soundcloud, or move to something like Bandcamp. It seems like Soundcloud is great for getting rough tracks out there quickly, while Bandcamp might be better for a more polished album with artwork and so on, or at least fewer sirens than on "She's Like the Swallow". I love Steve Lawson's approach of putting all of his stuff on Bandcamp with a pay-what-you-will label. As an aside, I also really have him to thank for making me aware of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and his article on Talking About Awesome Things gave me a major kick up the backside.

Coming soon: a way for people to give money to Brigantia Consort. That will probably start with a PayPal button, unless someone can tell me what the cool kids are doing these days.

Today I blogged ever so briefly on She's Like the Swallow; it will be interesting to see what the publicity there, and here, does to the Soundcloud stats.