Monday 31 March 2008

Personal Space 1

I have to write a piece next week probably for a building. The idea of 'Personal Space' and buildings is of increasing interest to me, since the idea of 'the personal' is something that is clearly changing with technology. It is difficult to define what a 'person' is: Locke argues that it relates to the body; but so does technology, and technology is increasingly social, and increasingly transparent. Musically, chromaticism has a bodily relationship; modernism is ultra-personal. Given this, what is 'public' music? This piece starts tries to start from something public and becomes more chromatic... it tries to become more 'enchanting': Transparency and enchantment may have to go together...

Sunday 30 March 2008

Lazy Sunday

Doing this blog is most interesting when I don't feel like it (but things that you only do when you're 'in the mood' tend not to be sustainable!). Under the circumstances, I can always do something: in this case, something between an exercise (pentatonic scales in left hand) and something very abstract. The abstract aspect of this interests me a lot at the moment: it's ultra-personal, an extension of yesterday's visceral romanticism; it comes directly from and speaks directly to the body (Locke!). Is there a difference between 'personal' and public 'music'?: the difference between Schoenberg and Palastrina, perhaps...

Saturday 29 March 2008

Music and the Body

Vincent D'Indy remarked that there seemed to be a relationship between harmonic progression and the 'movement of the stomach muscles': moving sharper tended to tighten the muscles, moving flatter relaxed them. This direct physical (visceral) link would explain the ability of music to create sensations which are similar to orgasm (Wagner, Belioz). (What does this mean philosophically? more weight to Gibsonian perception, perhaps!) So here is an improvisation which, though not quite orgasmic, moves sharper and sharper (using tritone substitution harmonies, moving up in thirds), to a climactic moment, and then falling down the cycle of 5ths (i.e. flatter). D'Indy seems to have a point, which in music today, we ignore at our peril.

Friday 28 March 2008

Norwegian thoughts

Probably following on from Delius, I've had Grieg's Solveg's song in mind today. Grieg was a big influence on Delius: a magical, enchanted, starlight world full of mystery and promise. And I loved Norway. So this is similar to Solveg's song, with chromatic harmony, slow chromatic rising arpeggios (Verdi), etc. I'm very attracted by this because it's produces such a human and visceral yearning, almost sexual... completely unlike the 'iron stomach' music of the Birtwistle crowd (although that has its place..) It could be accused of escapism. I'm not sure. It could be allegorical, and that's very different. C.S. Lewis remarked that his conversion centred on his realisation that allegories were real...

Thursday 27 March 2008

Spring folk songs

Delius's music has always been very close to me - his harmonies seem to transport the listener into a world that is extremely fragile, utterly beautiful, and almost inconceivable outside the music. How did he do it? He was very influenced by black music when he visited cotton plantations in Florida in the 1880s, and my tritone substitutions over Brigg Fair are not a million miles away from his... I've also included another folk song which I've later identified as 'Green Bushes' (used by Vaughan Williams in the Suite on English Folk songs)

Wednesday 26 March 2008

JISC Teaching and Learning experts meeting

This was a long day (Bristol, trains, JISC, etc), so the improvisation is barely meaningful - just a doodle-waltz... Thinking about Rudolph Steiner and Niklas Luhmann in parallel at the moment - fascinating... makes a lot more sense than anything else that's gone on today!

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Thinking about Verdi...

Don't know what's brought this on, but I've become fascinated by Verdi's music recently, particularly the chromatic melodic motifs he uses in accompaniments. He managed to capture something very human and very passionate. My improvisation is much harsher than anything in Verdi, but it also makes me think of the debt that Britten owed him - there's a strong similarity in those chromatic lines..

Catching up after Easter

No blogging for the last couple of days because of Easter. But these two improvisations were done before the break. The first is Bach-inspired:

and this one is based on Purcell's 'Hear my Prayer' (which appears at the end of the 'Wild Thursday' improvisation), which I am very interested in at the moment. There might be a possibility of developing this into something...

Friday 21 March 2008

cold spring

It's been a very cold good friday. So went to cinema with Isobel to see 'Game Plan' - American Football meets ballet meets "3 men and a baby". Isobel enjoyed it. I cried all the way through - very embarrasing. I notated a bit of this slightly cheerful piece in Sibelius..

Thursday 20 March 2008

Wild Thursday

Heard a 16th century lullaby on the radio today.. very touching and beautiful... it got me into 16th century mode again, but I was also thinking of Beethoven, wild juxtapositions, etc. How wild is too wild?

Wednesday 19 March 2008

slightly drunk...

I'm doing this one slightly pissed after a nice curry with Phil and Carol. Not only pissed, but pissed-off too because of problems with the TenCompetence conference! So this is a 'night piece' to match my mood: interesting what freed inhibitions does to piano improvisation!

Tuesday 18 March 2008


Heard the end of Mahler 8 on the radio today, and it made me think about romantic chromatic harmony. This isn't easy to improvise, and what I've done sounds more like Schubert (when it doesn't go wrong), but doing it has given me some ideas. The key is the 'passionate' nature of this sort of harmony... what is it about it that evokes such a bodily response? I think Bateson has something to contribute here with his ideas on Schizmogenesis...

1st version better (but not brilliant!)

than this one...

Monday 17 March 2008

Monday experiments

Ok.. you have to experiment... so here's a bad attempt at being McCoy Tyner, and then a terrible example of 'extreme composition': I wanted to do something very light and whimsical, but couldn't improvise it, so I wrote it down in shorthand on Sibelius very quickly and performed it (with a bit of impro). Weird that it was so difficult to do!

Sunday 16 March 2008

Sunday impressions

For the first time, I don't really feel like doing an improvisation.. in fact I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to do anything at all! This is an effort to capture the palm sunday procession where "Pueri Hebraeorum" was sung outside (against the noise of buses, and then church bells), and then proceeded into the church to the entrance hymn. It was an odd spectacle and an extraordinary sound which felt at once very modern and very ancient.

Saturday 15 March 2008

Nearly Easter

It's nearly Easter and I'm feeling a bit more catholic than usual, so here are two Messaien-inspired improvisations... Heard James Macmillan on the radio this morning complaining that the arts are showing a tendency to be uncritically left-wing (and perceived to be so). Uncritical anything is not a good thing!

Friday 14 March 2008

Glad that week's over!

Spot the deliberate cue for the telephone!

Thursday 13 March 2008

Something mellow (ish)

Very busy day, and an unforgettable evening event (regeneration, fire alarms, etc!) - need something to relax, so tried this with a 'cello' melody (bit like Walton perhaps...) Quite puzzled that the first movie yesterday has over 1500 hits on youtube!! Obviously there's a market for Britten-like quartets!

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Lots of ideas from JISC

... but musical ones! I started slightly gloomily and experimental - movements for a quartet, perhaps..

this one's really experimental (warning!) and at the limit of what I can technically do...

finally, this is more like a choral piece in the style of Finzi... something of a relief

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Improvisation from Birmingham...

Actually this isn't from Birmingham - I knew I'd be away, so I prepared this last night. Two versions again...

or ..

Monday 10 March 2008

Frantic monday

It's been a very frantic day because I'm in Birmingham for the next two days, so won't be able to get anything done. Lots of preparation for sustainable community event on Thursday, getting people to Madrid for conference, etc. Still recovering from last-minute ALT-C submission last night...

Thank God for Bartok (although this is me)

Sunday 9 March 2008

Laid-back sunday

After all the excitement of my daughter destroying the metronome, this is something quite relaxed...

Piano effect with metronome discovered by my daughter

I'll post my improvisation later, but my daughter decided she wanted a go at recording herself, and in the excitement shoved the metronome into the piano producing an interesting effect!

Saturday 8 March 2008

Something abstract and computers writing music on Saturday

There is barely a moment as a composer when you don't think "what am I doing?", or even "couldn't a computer do that?", or even still "couldn't my cat do that?": it's part of the territory - the feeling that you are compelled to do something that simply doesn't make sense; and yet, seems rewarding both to you as an individual (in fact it's hard to conceive of myself as an individual without music), and at the same time (sometimes) gives others pleasure too. It's then that I get a sense of the way that music is intricately tied up with the mysteries of existence, in a way that the "reason cannot perceive" (to borrow from Pascal); and not only does it shed light on itself, but on the mystery of communication in general.

We attenuate our souls with concepts because to not do so would render us incapable of survival. But in that necessary attenuation, we can lose sight of our real soul.

Doing music reconnects the circuits that I had to ignore...

Friday 7 March 2008

Friday thinking about Eagles...

a morning, awakening, and then something magic: "a beautiful, contemplative moment"

Thursday 6 March 2008

Thursday, Uri Caine and Luhmann

Came across Uri Caine playing 'at' Mozart this morning on the radio. Fantastic! - this isn't really anything like it, except perhaps for the bass pattern - but that's more like Janacek... I was also knocked out by Luhmann's 'Love as Passion'. Once again, two versions (this is becoming a habit!). I think the first is better.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Wednesday descriptions...

Here are two different descriptions of the same thing. I heard a very beautiful sonatina for flute and piano by Milhaud this morning, so that's stayed with me... Maybe the method doesn't quite match the intention - that's been a theme of the day!

I prefer this one....

to this....

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Another on Tuesday

I wasn't too happy with the Tuesday effort, so I did another. Here it is - must work on that left hand!!

Tuesday evening..

Something assertive which ends up in the sky....

Monday 3 March 2008

Monday after a long day

Feeling in the need for something a bit whimsical.. it's been a long day!

Sunday 2 March 2008

One more this Sunday

I really don't like blogging. It's too set in stone; too rational.. I'd prefer to do something a bit less tangible...

Sunday afternoon

Ok. It's sunday afternoon, and it's just me and a piano (and a microphone, and a webcam...) Just do something, and never mind the mistakes...