Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The End is the Beginning*

(* with apologies to Guillaume de Machaut and Phil Grange for borrowing the title of this post)

Thirty Days doesn't seem like long, does it? Four weeks and two days. One month out of the twelve; 8.2% of a year.

I can promise you, however, that writing a piece of music every day for a month is a major challenge. What I've experienced in this last week I can only describe as a battle with my own creative consciousness. The 28th was the first day when I didn't write my original idea for the piece (I'm saving it, I need something to do next month!) because I didn't have the energy and focus to see it through properly in the time available. I am, I should say, quite pleased with what I wrote instead. But my point is this – there is a surprising (to me) amount of both mental and physical energy which is required for constant and repeated creative application, and I have been fascinated to see how this has slowly ebbed away over time.

There is also a threshold point where you get bored with your own music and start trying wildly different things. For me this has been particularly about harmony. My soundworld tends to fall back onto harmonies which are based on fourths and fifths (whereas tonal harmony is based on thirds) – if you’re wondering what this means, go to a piano and play the triad D/A/E and you’ll get the sense of it. It produces a music which is not tonal but is also not especially dissonant – or at least not dissonant by default (dissonance and consonance, in my view, are elements of the music to be manipulated for a purpose – just like the tempo, for example).

By the end of the third week I was fed up with my usual fifth-based harmonies. I started to get the sense that everything I was producing in this project was going to sound the same. Having sealed everything in envelopes as I went along, I basically had no way to tell whether this was true or not. By the end of the fourth week I had reached a point where either I was producing music where all harmonic control was relinquished (Day 27 – Star Map – where the constellation patterns at the time of writing control the notes) or indeed where there was no pitch at all (Day 28 – Tapping Music). So as a composer I have come out of the other side of this project with a new appreciation of what I guess is my style or my voice, where it comes from, and how I can move beyond that if/when I want to. That is invaluable.

A fascinating aspect of this project has also been memory. It may sound hard to believe, but I've forgotten some of the stuff that I wrote in the first week. Yesterday, I almost called my piece Duo. I flicked back through the blog and found that I’d written a piece called Duo on Day 5. The earlier Duo was nothing like the Day 29 Duo and I didn't want to connect them (check out Paul’s great article on Titles from last week, if you haven’t already). So I eventually went for the (much better) title of Convergence.

The big question which Paul and I have been considering is, of course, what to do next. We are working on putting together the performance and we’ll put some pictures up here when we get together and open all the envelopes.  We’ll also keep you updated about any performance dates. 

We've been wondering whether 30 Days will become an annual event, maybe with wider participation (maybe one day morphing into something like the fantastic National Novel Writing Month which Paul and I are both veterans of, and which I would highly recommend). We've talked about books of the scores, we’ve talked about recordings – all of that in good time.

What’s certain though is that we are sitting on a pretty substantial body of work which is tied to time and place in a unique way. Where we go next with it is perhaps the most exciting part.
And that brings us on to my last thought for the day. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all of you – old friends and friends not yet met, who have followed, supported, retweeted, facebooked and generally cheered us on. We've appreciated it. We couldn't have got here if no-one had been interested in what we were doing. So congratulations, you are all now philanthropists who have played a little part in creating this body of work.

And here is my reward for getting through. For those who are curious, it is a pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship from my local (and if you don’t know why that is relevant, read this). 

Thanks for reading.


Day 30 - Paul's 30th and Final Chapter

Keep Britain Tidy
And here it is... the end! Here is my final work of 30 Days in September. Let's get ready for the book... Crowd funding coming soon and the big first performance. What a month. What will I do tomorrow! 

Day 30 - Ghost Ship

The final day.

This piece consists of a very slow, very very quiet three part chorale - in which the three instruments play phrases of differing lengths so that the harmonies shift in gradual cycles - and a semi-improvised solo line which soars gently above it.

30 Days: The Final Day

These are the envelopes which say... we have almost reached our goal!

Welcome to Day 30 and thanks for following/supporting us on the journey so far.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 29 - Paul's 29th Chapter

The pendulum swings back and forth. Follow it's progress. Read the score in the direction of travel. It is your conductor. 

Day 29 - Convergence

So we reach the penultimate day of 30 Days in September. This piece is for two performers, each of whom has 6 lines of material to work with which can be played in any order or combination.

The piece was created using a technique similar to the 'cadavre exquis' game created by Andre Breton and his early surrealist group in the 1920s. Each section of each line was written at a different time of day with the paper folded over, meaning that I had to rely on my (admittedly questionable) memory to remember what had come before on that particular line. This proves to be quite impossible, with the added side effect that each section aligns vertically with the other lines at that point. Here's how it looked in progress:

And so the two players converge over the course of the piece, and we converge on the final day of our challenge.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Day 28 - Tapping Music

Well, this challenge is getting pretty tough towards the end, but we're both still keeping up with our daily deadline (just!)

Today's piece is scored for any number of tapping sounds, produced either by instruments or other objects. It takes the form of a web or maze where the performers start in the centre and move outwards (or later inwards) cell-by-cell.