Musical composition for dance piece The Silence.
An investigation into the people of the old asylums – the dancers become the ghosts of those forgotten and left in the dust of history. After the success of the production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011, it has been turned into an abstract dance film that was screened for the first time at the Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London on the 9 December 2011 and also broadcast by Tendu TV.
Artistic Director – Adam Korwin-Sleprowonski.
Director of Photography – Michelle Walsh.
Choreography – Nikki Mcluskey.
Performed by Nikki Mcluskey, Natalie Reed, Charlie Ackermann and Emily Vessey.
One of the four submissions for trimester two is the creative response. This is a piece of music composed in response to one of the seminars that explores compositional methodologies. The musical piece discussed here is response to the Ambrose Field session at Leeds College of Music 17/13/2011. In this session Field described the compositional processes and objectives in his Anagram project, a piece for electronics and vocals using early music as inspiration. The creative response piece is titled Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated).
Aims and Objectives.
This creative response is an artistic enquiry based on Ambrose Field’s notion of digitally manipulated Renaissance music, that is, early music sources set in contemporary backgrounds. The piece was produced using the same compositional objectives and rules as employed by Field in his Anagram project.
Field’s Anagram project is piece for electronics and vocals. Here, Field is concerned with combing technologies and people along with ideas derived from 16th century Renaissance music. The piece employs recontextualised found materials and timbral extension organised through a set of compositional rules and objectives.
The source material used by Field is by 16th century composers. In the Anagram project, this source material is first edited on the page to produce a vocal edition for the singer to work from, a recording of the material is then produced for Field to manipulate. ‘This process is transcontextual, a process by which taking something from one context and taking something from another context and slamming them together you get some kind of new meaning but you haven’t had to do anything to either of your source materials. This is a powerful compositional, musical idea’ (Field, 2011). The sources are not corrupted but are presented exactly as they are and performed as stylishly as possible. This presents an alternative, postmodern viewpoint on the original music.
Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated) borrows stylistically from Field’s Anagram in the same way that Field borrows from 16th Century composer Gombert’sMusae Jovis. That is, a solo vocal line floats above an intricate and moving dense texture. Field echoes this in his response to Gombert through a manipulation of textures. This is done in two ways. Firstly, sound treatments and processing are applied to fragments of recorded vocal through a granular re-harmonising which links timbre to the that of the soloist, thus keeping a sonic unity. Secondly, played synthesiser parts are added. In Field’s piece, these pad-like textures are framed in a mid-90s aesthetic by employing Roland D50s and other technologies of the era. It is the notion of combining technologies with the human performance of early music, whilst maintaining a constant aesthetic that underpins this creative response.
Field proposes a set of self imposed limitations on the working processes. These rules are applied for practical reasons as the combination of computers and live performers generates many avenues for potential exploration meaning the project would take too long to complete. The rules help to focus the piece and achieve specific objectives.
Original compositions are re-performed and recorded, not sampled from other recordings.
The source material can be re-organised in time. Fragments may appear out of order to their original position.
The source material can be shaped, edited and re-positioned but not re-composed.
All parts are to be performed. There is no automation or command lines, for example.
New material is generated by re-interpretation of the structural design of the original pieces.
The piece is to be respectful to the source material, not a pastiche.
Production of Ave Verum Corpus (Manipulated).
Selecting the source material.
The composer chosen as the focus for this creative response was selected with two criteria in mind. Firstly, to be from a similar period to that of Field’s and secondly to have a local (Lincoln) connection. The source material was chosen for aesthetic reasons; the piece was to be vocal music, slow in tempo, in a minor key and not have too much complexity in terms of polyphony. The piece chosen is the motet Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd (1605).
The first stage was to record the Byrd piece. For this, a four-piece vocal ensemble rehearsed and performed the piece and this was recorded into Pro Tools using a Rode NT1A microphone. The whole choir was recorded in mono as a guide and then each member of the ensemble recorded their part individually, again in mono. The vocal parts of bass, tenor one, tenor two and alto could then be processed separately. No click track was used during recording as the piece was to be created “off the grid” (that is, no timing correction or quantization was to be used). The room tone on the recordings was kept to a minimum through the use of an acoustically dry room as a neutral recording was desirable for the manipulation and processing stages to follow.
Manipulation and additional parts.
Field is interested in timbral extension not, however, in dissonance or micro-polyphonic imitation. Harmonic, polyphonic densities are created digitally to fill out the spectral space in both Field’s piece and my own. To achieve this, the Reaktor Player ensemble The Mouth was used to process the vocal recordings. Here each performance was in turn manipulated through the Reaktor plug-in and various parameters of the sound’s timbre and envelope were modified to give each part its own place in the composition. The bass vocal was used to create the majority of the new parts. Each part was then re-recorded back into Pro Tools as an audio file rather than as a real-time processed part. This process was repeated three times building up different textures with each pass. Three performed MIDI parts were then added. These are harmonic drone/texture parts created using Absynth and Ultra Analog VA-1 played in through the Korg Kontrol 49. Again, these parts were printed to disc as audio files.
Structure and Mixing.
The overall structure of the piece was not changed, however, to shape the piece, some sections of the voice parts were removed. The only surviving part in its entirety is the bass vocal. This was a creative decision in the process of composition, the desired effect was to have the piece build up with successively added layers. The section 3m 30s into the piece is the most dense. Here all four vocal parts play together along with the supporting synthesised elements. The new synthesised and manipulated parts were balanced against the original vocal recordings. Sound shaping was achieved through traditional methods of EQ, compression and spatial positioning (panning and reverb), all done within Pro Tools.
Korg Kontrol 49 USB keyboard
Pro Tools LE8
NI Reaktor 5
NI Absynth 5
AAS Ultra Analog VA-1
My first session back in Leeds for trimester two was with guest speaker Peter Howell from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Peter’s session was titled Sound And Music Awareness, in which, he talked about the composition of applied music; i.e. music for another medium. The medium in this instance was film.
Peter’s talk concentrated on how a composer must relinquish some of their rights to the audience. When writing a piece of concert music you are responsible for 100% of what the audience is there for. However, when you are composing applied music, you have given away some of that percentage. “If you write 100% music and add it to a film, you get 200% confusion”. The challenge for the composer of applied music is to supply something that magically transforms the film and makes it better.
He illustrated this point with the opening title scene from Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Here the music does not respond to the image on screen or tries to reflect what is happening but is juxtaposed with it. Because the music and image don’t appear to match (the music is from an Italian Opera) it calls upon the audience to come to some conclusions of its own. The scene proposes two points; the image and the music. The audience acts as the third point. As in trigonometry, two of the points are delivered, the third has to be worked out i.e. the audience has to make up its own mind about what is happening. This is something the audience enjoys doing, in being involved in its own entertainment. Together, the image and music asks the audience to contribute, to look for answers, and in doing so it remains interested and engaged.
The first twenty minutes of my hour long portfolio are now finished and handed in. The music I have composed falls into three parts:
SGT – 400
Part one is the soundtrack for the Siemens animation. As I explained in an earlier post, the animation is for corporate purposes and is a slow motion fly-round of a 3D model of a gas turbine engine. I tried to incorporate some recordings I made of the engine sounds but they are full of screaming mid and high frequencies which masked any musical parts I put it near. I managed to squeeze it in near the beginning of the track. The complete artefact is yet to be finished; there’s still a voice-over to record and mix.
Part two is a stand alone music track I composed for the forthcoming Clearnotice compilation album. I really enjoyed working on this track as I was free to take it wherever I wanted. I ditched my usual Logic and wrote the track in Ableton (to which, I’m still a noobie), and mixed it in Pro Tools. Pure Tone did a lovely job of mastering it. The starting point for this track’s composition was a beat I made that was influenced by a Jeff Mills track. There is also a nod to Delia Derbyshire (in some of the little sprinklings on top) and the drones are a mangled Marcel Duchamp sound poem. You can hear a 30 sec preview of the track below. There are some great artists scheduled to appear on the album – I’ll post more information when it is released later this summer. U?+ Preview by mandrill1
The third piece is the one I had the most difficulty with. It is a score for a short film. The film focusses on a WW2 veteran and includes some flashback scenes to significant moments in his wartime experience. I wanted to avoid the obvious orchestral instrumentation as much as possible and create an electronic score but, due to the period setting of some of the scenes, this proved to be difficult and I compromised with a hybrid of the two. This is my first attempt at scoring for film and I found it very tricky; always being mindful of the key points in the narrative and supporting the dialogue or action when required. I discussed the piece at great lengths with my supervisor (the writer/director of the film) and it went through six iterations until we were both happy(ish) with it. I also didn’t have split dialogue and sound effects mixes to work with, meaning some of the dialogue was very low level. You can hear the full score below and, although it works much better with the dialogue/effects track and pictures, I’m still not completely happy with it. MA Film Soundtrack: Full Score by mandrill1
I was asked if I could incorporate some of the sounds of a gas turbine engine starting up and shutting down into the piece of music I’m writing for the engineering animation. Of course I can! I grabbed my headphones, a couple of Beyer Dynamic M201TGs and a Marantz PMD661 from uni and cycled to the Siemens plant in Lincoln. I watched a thrilling health and safety video, was given a pair of steel toe-capped brogues(!), a set of ear protectors and a tour of the plant. It’s huge. Once we were in the testing room, I was shown which of bits of the engine did what and what kind of sound levels I should expect – around 180dB. I attenuated everything as much as I could and tested the mics. I started recording and they fired the machine up, with my ear defenders on all I could do was watch the meters and cross my fingers. Everything looked fine and then the engine wound down, it had failed to switch to its next phase. Great, I thought, more sounds for me. The engine was re-booted and this time it ramped up into its operational phase. It was LOUD. The red clip lights were flashing like mad but there was nothing I could do, the engine would stay in this phase for the rest of the day.
Luckily, there is no obvious clipping in the recordings and, in any case, I’ll probably mangle the sounds into the track. Will they fit the music? God knows, but it was great fun sourcing the sounds and working without clicking a mouse for a couple of hours. Feel free to grab the recording from Soundcloud. Thanks to Mel Fidlin for making this happen.
In the past, I have written a lot of music for music’s sake and I now want to try the challenge of writing for a specific purpose. For this task I’ve been given a short film to score.
The film score can have a real say in how a film is shaped and although, ‘in one sense, all (or almost all) music in narrative film functions to create mood music’ (Kassabian, 2001), it serves three broad purposes; identification (a leitmotif identifies character, place, period etc.), mood and commentary (the underscore comments on a character’s situation – think Tom and Jerry).
The film I’ve been given focusses on a WW2 veteran who revisits the battlegrounds of France. As he reflects on his wartime experience, the film uses flashback scenes to tell his story. I wanted to avoid the cliché of big orchestral strings and try a subtle electronic approach. My first task is to spot the film for music. The flashback scenes are dialogue heavy and I didn’t feel an underscore was needed here. I also felt an electronic score wouldn’t be appropriate at these points.
There are two key moments of reflection when the character is an old man where I wanted to subtly use the music for dramatic effect, to heighten emotion and to guide the narrative through the internalised world of the central character.
My first three essays are done (and I’m really pleased with the grades: 70/75/80!) and now, to complete the first phase (Post Graduate Certificate), I must write 20 minutes of music. It’s been a while since I last made a serious attempt at composition and, as I want to try new approaches, I’ve moved over to Ableton (from Logic) as my primary tool. I’ve chosen to submit a hybrid portfolio, meaning the music in it has various functions. It can be an underscore for a film, for example, or simply a stand-alone piece.
My first piece is a soundtrack for an animation for an engineering company. This is a real-world brief that came to me through my job at the university (there’s no payment in it, unfortunately!) and the requirements are very, well, brief: ‘mainly bed with energy (not excessive) and with instrumentation to sit behind commentary.’ The animation is for corporate purposes and is a slow motion fly-round of a 3D model of an engine – the odd panel floats off to reveal what’s underneath. Exciting stuff.
My first attempt is at something quite neutral sounding in terms of genre (other than it’s an electronic piece). With its steady pace it is cold and detached but also quite hi-tech sounding. It is minimal with arpeggiators that float throughout the piece with a few glitchy random rhythmic elements. These could be interpreted as machinery coughing and spluttering – not what I imagine the client is hoping to evoke, I’m sure! I’ve not heard back from them yet so there may be a major tweak or re-write ahead.
Analysis essay handed in. I chose David Lynch’s The Straight Story as a case study for a discussion around the function of music in narrative film. I’m a big Lynch fan, however, this isn’t your typical Lynch fare but it is a great film nonetheless. I’ve listened closely to the soundtrack a number of times and, aside from Badalamenti’s non-typical score, what strikes me most about it is the minimal use of dialogue and (but for the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the trees) the huge swathes of silence.
Critical Evaluation presentation is done and the essay is nearly finished. This is the tricky one. The title ‘Does the prevalence of sampling in today’s popular music signal the triumph of ‘pseudo culture’, in the sense of Adorno’s definition?’ meant a lot of reading around theories and issues that are completely new to me. I wanted to include an artist’s perspective and I contacted Tim Exile via Twitter. He was, luckily for me, delayed at Gatwick airport during the bad weather just before Christmas and he very kindly agreed to answer a few questions. He provided me with some very useful material, so thanks very much, Tim and glad you (eventually!) made it safely to your destination.
Industry Studies essay is also nearly done. For this one I’ve focussed on artists and musicians who are building relationships with their audience in order to create sustainable, independent careers without need for a recording contract.
This blog hasn’t really turned out as planned. I intended to post an update after each weekly trip to Leeds but there is just too much material to select from and with the present workload for my job, finding the time to write anything meaningful has proved impossible.
The sessions in Leeds have been incredibly stimulating and enjoyable. The three modules of the first trimester (Industry Studies, Critical Evaluation and Composition Analysis) have introduced me to huge areas of philosophy, ideologies, cultural and critical theory, and, of course, music that I’ve never come across before. I’ve loved it.
My task over the Christmas break is to write an essay for each of these modules (and present a conference style paper in January) followed by a 20 minute music composition for hand-in in May. Hopefully, I’ll be uploading work in progress and thoughts about the composition process as I go along.
I’ve been to the library, Amazon and raided the university’s e-resources ready to fill my brain with a Christmas book gorge. Have a happy Christmas, see you in 2010.