Thinking big thoughts

Today I did manage to do some work on both pieces and while it felt a little odd changing gear it was OK. Hoping I’ll just get used to it, although I strongly suspect there’ll be a fair bit of overlap between the pieces because of doing them at the same time.

Mostly I was reading today. I nestled myself down in the beanbag after a bit of a traumatic house-morning, with Prokofiev Violin Sonatas playing (yes, I know there’s no quarter-tones there!) and pulled out the catalogue for the Tate Miró exhibition. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an essay in it that specifically looks at his use of ladders in his paintings, but I did find one on his Catalan peasants, which is a motif which he seems to have combined with the ladder in later works. So I read about the Catalan peasants, which yielded the unexpected and rather fascinating information that this series of paintings (you can see them in a Google image search for “Miro Catalan peasant”) didn’t in fact progress from complex to simple, but oscillated back and forth:

What seems to have happened was not a simple, single-track movement towards the void, but an oscillation between the desire to fill and the desire to empty the picture space. (p. 62, ‘Miró’s Catalan Peasants’ by Christopher Green)

For some reason I find this fascinating. I’m not sure whether or how useful it will be in constructing Ladders of Escape but it’s making me think thoughtful thoughts about the role of “the void” as Green puts it, and how that might translate into music. The obvious parallel is silence, but it could also be stasis in contrast to movement, thin texture as opposed to thick, any one of a whole bunch of parameters. My next step really needs to be to pull out the little bit of the first movement I started before we moved and see what I think of it and how it fits in with my current thinking about this piece.

Ladders was always going to be in three movements, but it’s only today that I think I’m starting to find a structural approach to Lilies on the Silver Sea. As regular readers will know, most of my work tends towards the miniature, but I think this piece for Carla needs to be more substantial and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that, especially when writing for a single instrument. Last night on Twitter, however, Marc Yeats shared the links for his two pieces written for Carla with me.

First up, everyone needs to listen to his 2003 piece Have Heard This Dialogue of One because it is absolutely gorgeous. And when you’re done with that, pop over to the page for Strange and Artificial Echoes, a new piece, written this year so not recorded yet. I find Marc’s approach to structure for this piece intriguing – short sections which can be combined to make a long piece or a short piece, depending on what the performer needs/wants. While I’m not sure that I’d like to mix up my plan that much – after all there is a narrative somewhere at the bottom of all this, however vague – I do like the idea of short sections combining to form a whole.

My reading for Lilies today involved digging my Narnia books out of the depths of a dusty moving box and re-reading the last two chapters of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Having done this and pulled out some salient passages, I have a better idea of the number of ideas I’m thinking about dealing with in this piece. It’s also brought home to me a rather scary thing which is that, as most of you will no doubt know, the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about the approach to heaven which all makes me feel rather arrogant and inadequate for trying to convey such a thing in music at all! It’s a good thing I don’t have any delusions of trying to express exactly what’s described but am using the prose as a starting point for purely musical ideas because otherwise I suspect it would be doomed to failure.

However, the reading emphasises the passage of environments – from crystal-clear water, through a carpet of lilies, and finally, wading through shallow water to sand and soft lawn – which I think I may try to use. It forms a natural progression of sections and I’m thinking that I might even try different approaches to using the quarter-tones for each section. Will see how I go 🙂

I had in my plan for the day to get to real notes, but alas it has not been the case – too much plumbing and scrubbing, but hopefully tomorrow (painting on of aluminium wood primer which needs 24 hours to dry) will see more progress in that department.

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