CP2016 – Day 14: Actual Real Live Notes

So finally, after a 2-week hiatus, I’m back on the Creative Pact trail. Those two weeks were filled with a trip to visit lovely relations in Bristol, a slight relapse into madness, blinding daily headaches, a truckload of work prepping various performances happening this month and an oh-my-God-this-is-really-happening freakout when I sent off the paperwork signing myself up to start a PhD on 1 October. It’s been busy.

And all this time, the cello piece has been ticking away in the back of my mind, assisting with the anxiety-induced madness episodes, but also making its own way and working out what it’s going to be and what it’s not going to be.

Let’s start with what it’s not going to be. It’s not going to be for cello and electronics. This is still a combination I’m interested in but I just haven’t been able to get my head around the electronics and how it will interact with the cello. It’s been all about intersections and not about what it’s doing there or what it should sound like. I need more time to really mess about with this and I think that’s possibly better done without such an immediate deadline. So for the gig on the 29th, this is just a cello piece.

What it is going to be is super-simple. The recurring insanity has left me with an intense desire for things which are simple yet detailed, and this piece is no exception. My focus is on limited pitches, with repetition of pitch and changing tone colours being key. Today I actually put Real Live Notes down on paper. I think there’s stuff I can use there, but there’s a lot of vagueness too. I’m finding it hard to think just about defined sonic material – it’s been so very long since I’ve just written a piece of music, to be honest. I think the last time I did something like this was in 2014. Since then my work has either been very open,  without specified pitches and/or rhythms, and/or very visual, at least in part. Yes, Fortune Favours the Brave (which is going to be on Radio 3 this month!!) was properly notated for flute, but its structure was largely determined by visual/theatrical elements.

So I’m having some trouble finding this piece’s purpose (aside from “I said I’d write a thing so I need a thing to be written”) and old fears about it ending up dull and/or pretentious are surfacing and having their wicked way with my poor battered brain. I’ve got three lines of sketch written down today, which feels like a good start, and some ideas to be carrying on with. I’m thinking about the possibilities available with quarter-tones as slight embellishments of a single pitch, and considering whether the parts I’ve notated as single pitch should actually be single pitch or whether octave alterations are desirable (I think they probably are). For now I’ve just slapped down the pitches and rough rhythms. I’ve yet to fully think through the celloness of the piece. There’s a vague idea there but it’s not on the stave yet except as rough text notes about tone and bow speed: “flautando/harmonics/sul tasto”, “slow gliss – as long as poss” and “harsh, fast”. Oddly, while I have dynamics in my head, I seem to be translating them more in terms of tonal changes and bow speed. I know this isn’t necessarily a clear correlation and I may mix it up at some point, but for now this is how I’m dealing with these elements.

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