After such a long hiatus it feels astonishing to be finally returning to live Illuminate Women’s Music concerts and, with the return of the season, to be writing a new blog about my compositional work generally and the commissioned work I have written for the Illuminate series of concerts.
Punch echo for saxophone and piano
(Illuminate Women’s Music commission)
This autumn my piece Punch, echofor saxophone and piano that will be premiered and given repeat performances by Naomi Sullivan and Kumi Matsuo across the Illuminate series of concerts across the UK. This work is actually the last piece I finished before the pandemic hit and our lives as we knew it stopped in it tracks. I decided not to edit the piece any further after this – this decision was not really a conscious one – but I think it is good that the piece remains a snapshot of an energetic optimism I had for the year ahead. I feel the piece perhaps has an innocence about it as I was completely unaware of what path lay ahead for us all in reality.
I have always been fascinated in the dialogues between science, visual arts, dance and politics in my music. I have endless curiosity for gestures, shapes, sounds and their relation to the world, and how these relate to other artforms. My works are often inspired by the natural world, visual arts – particularly colour theory – and dance where I have engaged with Laban’s Eight efforts dance theory. Punch echo is an example of a piece that engages with these movement concepts.
Punch: to strike with the fist. Echo: a sound or sounds caused by the reflection of sound waves from a surface back to the listener.
This work draws on the meaning of the words ‘punch’ and ‘echo’, representing these through the lens of Laban’s Eight Efforts. Laban Movement Analysis is a method and nomenclature for describing, interpreting and documenting human movement. I feel a deep connection between the gestural language of movement and music. Laban categorises movement into eight efforts, descriptively named Float, Punch (Thrust), Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press. In this work I explore the effort of ‘punch’ on both macro and micro levels, exploring the musical impact of a ‘punch’ and its subsequent aftermath, the echo effect.
Though I haven’t edited this work since the start of the pandemic, for one of Illuminate’s digital concerts last year I created a postcard version of this piece, switching the words around to become Echo (punch) [a piece for unusual times]. This work essentially reimagined the material from my original piece by flipping the effort punch in reverse. The original Punch echo explores how music can convey the effort of ‘punch’ and its aftershock, which is essentially the echo. However, the echo here comes first followed by the action that caused it. In turning the idea on its head – taking material from my original composition – I was able to reimagine and explore the musical echoes in detail. These musical moments are the equivalent of zooming in and experiencing the aftershock of something in numbing slow motion with sudden bursts of movement that surges forward.
Spinning Colours | Faded Time for piano quartet
(written for Trio Northumbria and Alison Gill)
Another of my recent works that explores Laban’s eight efforts is a piano quartet called Spinning Colours | Faded Time.
Spinning Colours | Faded Timewas written for the Trio Northumbria for the 2021 Royal Musical Association Conference held at Newcastle University. The piece explores the ways that musical expressions of colour interact with musical renderings of Laban's eight efforts. Each gesture and colour has an associated weight, energy, and speed, creating interesting relationships between the instruments and their respective sonorities. The first half of the piece explores the slow Laban efforts: float, glide, wring, and press. The second half engages with the gestural efforts: flick, slash, dab, and punch, before the material disintegrates into pure harmonics, seemingly ever longer each time.
Woven half dreams for solo cello
(written as part of Connected skies project and programmed in Illuminate Autumn concerts)
In this autumn’s concerts, which feature our Illuminate performers in residence Ivana Peranic (cello) and Rachel Fryer (piano), my solo cello piece called Woven half dreams is being performed across some of the concerts.
This work, composed during the first series of lockdowns, is an emotional reaction to the pandemic. The work was written for Sarah Gait as part of the Arts Council England funded projected Connected skies: solo series challenge. In this project, I set out to write six new works for double bass, cello, flute, accordion, percussion and mezzo soprano between October 2020-May 2021. Each of these works received a digital premiere with monthly digital events from January 2021-June 2021. These events can still be watched on my YouTube channel.
Woven half dreams was the second piece in the Connected skies collection of solo pieces. All the pieces draw upon a poem I wrote, connecting the individual compositions into a song cycle of sorts. Woven half dreams explores unfurling threads and lines that are interrupted by burst of aggressive energetic passages. These aggressive bursts become ever more prominent throughout the piece, until they push the weaving lines completely away through the centre of the piece. The piece then returns to the weaving lines through delicate harmonic threads to the end of the piece.
When the sky enclosed around me
Shrinking ever smaller
I found woven half dreams
fractured in spaces inbetween
which ache and scream
I tried to shut the noise out
but it echoed right back at me
Please consider supporting Illuminate Women's Music future projects in both live and digital concerts:
Music has a role in ‘cultural and subcultural identity,’ (Cook, 1998: 5) a big part of which is communicating things that are important to an audience. I often think carefully about my work before I start writing and ask myself ‘what am I trying to communicate to an audience?’ and ‘how might this message reveal itself through the music that I write?’. Furthermore, I am drawn to extra-musical starting points, often ones that provide a duality of perspective such as a historical primary source which also comments upon something in the present, or something mundane from the everyday which can be elevated through the lens of performance and is perhaps widely experienced by listeners and performers alike.
Gwyneth (2015) was a work where I felt this idea of capturing real life- past and present- really started to take shape in my practice. The piece attempted to tell the true story of a child refugee (my Great Aunt) being sent to Australia during WW2 being retold at a time when many refugees were seeking safety from war-torn Syria. The importance of this comparison was to draw an analogy between the past the present, and to trigger empathy and understanding against the fear and frustration which was being whipped up in the media; the difference in circumstance was that during WW2 it was British children looking for refuge. In particular, it referenced elements of music which was symbolically poignant to the narrative in the form of Elgarian references in the lyrical writing for violin and cello. This enhances the music’s ability to draw upon the emotional conflicts that the situation presented and worked to ‘overcome some of the inertia’ (Becker 2014: 133) around this contemporary issue in an indirect way. In essence, the music became a programmatic representation of the event(s) it aimed to represent, and which acted as an ‘aesthetic artefact’ (Patti, 2009: 57) or a repository of historical and contemporary lived experience though music and narration. Patti (2009) discusses how ‘autoethnography is an art that “responds to life itself” and struggles meaningfully against the limitation of representing and translating lived experience’ however I feel that this meaningful struggle is essential as it adds a richness to the artefact produced. Music cannot be an exact representation of the identity, moment, or experience, but instead the artist/composer/interpreter/performer has a unique agency in accentuating key aspects in a form of augmented and artistic reality.
This idea of ‘humanness’ and fragility is something I have wanted to explore further in my work. This can be seen most readily in Fragments (2017) for soprano and piano whereby the text is five short poems by American poet Christopher Poindexter who “considers himself more of an observer, trying to make sense of the human condition in all of its grit and glory. Being inspired by both the darkness and the light, he aims to share an ultimate truth in all of his writing” (Poindexter, 2018) The poems are from his first body of work: Naked Human (2015) which, “is an exploration of humanity at its finest and at its worst,” and is a theme which perpetuates through a lot of music, specifically opera.. Poindexter’s short but blunt ‘fragments’ of lived moments, capture quotidian fleeting moments that many of us experience or have heard in our own internal monologues, which elevates the minutiae of the everyday into something more remarkable through performance.
Musically, the vocals switch between freely spoken (unscored) and singing in the mid to upper register of the range. The juxtaposition throws the audience between two listening modes and makes the starkness of the words even more pronounced. In addition, ‘breath’ is scored, making the audience feel uncomfortably close to the performer/persona’s thoughts. Immersing the audience through a textual or multi-sensory listening experience brings the audience closer to the story being told, the persona being represented and hopefully allowing them to ‘make use of it’ (Bourdieu, 1991: 43) emotively.
The questions I ask myself before I start writing became more poignant in March 2020 when communication and connecting with others took on a new meaning. This provided problems for those of us working in the arts and also required creative and innovative solutions to carry on working. One such example of this innovation was a series of live streamed daily concerts by pianist Duncan Honeybourne to raise funds for Help Musicians UK (Honeybourne, 2020). I was fortunate enough to be asked by Duncan to write a short piece for this project that was inspired by Lockdown. My inspiration came from watching BBC Breakfast one morning whereby the news reporter remarked hearing birdsong for the first time on her commute to work due to the reduction in noise pollution from commuters and industry. I went straight out to the garden and decided to record my resident blackbird, who’s song I am particularly fond of as it resembles the melody form ‘I’m a Barbie Girl’. I wanted to capture the contrast between everyday life before and after March 22nd 2020, specifically people’s renewed acknowledgement of their local area, the natural world and the importance of wellbeing. This resulted in a duet for piano and blackbird.; the first movement the blackbird cannot be heard over the cacophony of man-made noise which is juxtaposed by the tranquillity of the second movement.
It was important the blackbird and piano shared a language, so there are certain motifs that have been transcribed from the recording for the piano. The piano has two roles in this, firstly having a conversation with the blackbird in which they take turns most of the time so the bird song can be heard clearly. The piano melody is decidedly bird-like with trills and appoggiatura to ornament the melody, but also adding a more coherent lyrical flavour which is more ‘human’. Secondly, the piano adds emotion, harmony, texture, movement, and structure. Without the harmonic movement at bar 43 (see fig.1) and again at 64 the piece would lack pace and a richer texture. Like the first movement, this tries to use a lot of the piano’s range to give it depth and distinguish between the ‘conversation’ and the background noises of the environment.
I think the validity of taking a much-used practice of ornithology inspiring music is certainly the elevation of the quotidian through my music. It is just unusual that during lockdown the ‘every day’ is in fact rather extraordinary and therefore my piece is much more than just being about the blackbird’s song.
My work for Illuminate Women’s Music continues this investigation of elevating the ‘every day’. Partition (2021) was initially inspired by my reading about the fall of the Persian Empire during lockdown and how Persian rulers allowed the people they conquered to continue their lives and keep their cultures, customs religions, and traditions if they paid their taxes. I found this interesting, as too often these things are lost because of conflict and change of rule; you only have to look at the news and the current changes taking place in Kabul following the cities takeover by the Taliban to see the impact change of rule can have upon a nation. Furthermore, I realised the same could be said about the COVID-19 pandemic and lives being plunged into isolation because of an unseen threat; this, and the subsequent endeavours to keep culture and entertainment alive. Culture, community, family, friends, social activities are so important to our wellbeing and what makes us ‘human’ (Williamson, 2014) that we strove to find ways to keep it going online and stay connected.
Throughout history the world has been full of divisions.
These divisions are often man-made.
Conflict, violence, religion, gender, nature vs. nurture.
Land partitioned like a commodity. Lives destroyed over its
ownership. Cultures lost.
Even in the current times in which we live, we have been
segregated due to disease and disagreements over race and
Rainforests and the natural world plundered. The atmosphere
slowly being destroyed. Ice-caps melt.
Will there ever be harmony; will we always be partitioned?
Partition (Jenkins, 2020)
Therefore, Partition (2021) is an extraction of some snippets of conversations I had with family and friends during Lockdown, either on the phone or Zoom. The content of these conversations is not necessarily important other than the fact there were strong recurring themes (such as the virus, lockdown, the weather etc) and a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration at various things in our ‘new normal’. Conversations follow lots of different patterns, rhythms and structures depending upon their subject and how this unravels. Conversation is ultimately an improvisatory process in which an exchange of opinion, ideas and emotions are expressed- much like an exchange of musical ideas. I found that during lockdown these patterns and sentiments were improvisationary but also had strong themes and sometimes a feeling of familiarity as we responded to the news and progression of the global pandemic. The piece has a modal feel but isn’t attributed to a particular mode or mahab as it is a non-conventional nine-note pattern which is particularly chromatic in the middle as this gives a distantly familiar yet unsettled feel. Similarly, to Fragments (2017), this piece is concerned with small units of motif that occur, recur, and are respelled in different ways amongst other changing elements such as timbre, tempo, and form. This all works to give a sense of shifting perspective and uncertainty but also a strong sense of belonging.
In her chapter The Influence of the Extra-Musical Katz (2012) investigates how the extra-musical is mapped over onto musical structures and how different theories might shed some light onto these practices. I certainly believe that my work, to an extent, follows the idea that metaphor is a synthesis agent between two disparate domains (Ortony, 1979) – in this case it is language and music. De Bono (1970) calls this ‘lateral thinking’ or in other words, problem solving with information that is not overtly related to the initial problem or solution. (Katz, 2012: 175) In the main part, my central aim for the piece was to enable the cello and piano to be equal agents in this piece – I was determined to avoid the piano becoming an accompaniment and wanted an equal demonstration of virtuosity for both players. Secondly, I wanted the piece to communicate something quotidian, present and avoid the quixotic. Therefore, as Katz (2012) identifies, I have started a modulatory process as each extra-musical element has a unique character which starts to determine creative choices.
Firstly each ‘conversation’ or musical exchange is categorised by a synonym of the word partition and as such they each take on their own character, some of the musical ‘relationships’ more disparate than others. In a way these try and capture the different perspectives of life during lockdown – some going to work, some furloughed, some in forced isolation, some choosing isolation due to fear or the protection of loved ones – either way these unnatural divisions characterised our lives and therefore our conversations. Work to represent this has been particularly focussed upon the ‘light and shade’ of dynamics and the range of timbres afforded by utilising different techniques such as shimmering harmonics, tremolando and double stopping.
There are times where the cello is clearly being harmonic support for the piano and visa versa other times both parts seem to be working against each other or interjecting each other’s melody (see fig.2). Some conversations are short, others longer or some moving though different moods. These are all examples of how this mon-musical model has dictated form at both a macro (such as structure) and micro level (harmony, timbre, and texture) (Katz, 2012: 177).
I think it is important to note that although the ‘system’ is governed by the extra-musical, it isn’t the sole decider in the creative process. Allowances have to be made for musical logic. For example, the musical equivalent of a conversation if taken literally would mean that the speakers take it in turns but this wouldn’t necessarily make for a successful piece of music and therefore it is essential to take this framework as a starting point or for ‘inspiration’ rather than rigid rules. Therefore, there are many times where both instruments are playing together but it is very clear who is ‘dominating’ the conversation and where there are moments of agreement (see fig.3) which might be cello and piano playing in unison or one leading with a clear melody whilst the other is providing harmonic support. This is essential so the piece feels coherent and complete.
As mentioned, my music cannot be an exact representation of the identity, emotion, or experience of an event, but I do hope it has agency in accentuating key aspects of the ‘everyday’ in a form of augmented and artistic reality.
BBC (2020) The Art of Persia. BBC4, Wednesday 17th June 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000k48g
Becker, H., S (2014) What about Mozart? What about Murder? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bourdieu, P (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity.
Cook, N (1998) Music: A short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
De Bono, E (1970) Lateral Thinking. New York, Harper and Row.
Honeybourne, D (2020) Contemporary Piano Soundbites. Prima Facie.
Jenkins, H (2017) Fragments [WP]. Payee Chen (soprano) Kate Ledger (piano), 04 August 2017. York, Late Music. Available at: https://soundcloud.com/jenkinsonare/fragments
Jenkins, H (2015) Gwyneth [WP]. The Albany Trio, 06 June 2015. York, Late Music. Available at: https://soundcloud.com/jenkinsonare/gwyneth
Jenkins, H (2021) Partition [WP]. Ivana Peranic (cello) & Rachel Fryer (piano), 01 October 2021.Brighton, Illuminate Women’s Music, Series II.
Katz, S. L. (2012) The Influence of the Extra-Musical. In Eds, Collins, D (2012) The Act of Musical Composition. Surrey, Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Kramer, L (2011) Interpreting Music. London: University of California Press.
MacDonald, R., et al (2005) Musical Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
MacDonald, R., Hargreaves, D., & Miell, D (2017) Handbook of Musical Identities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ortony, A (1979) Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Patti, C., J (2009) Musical Artefacts of My Father’s Death: Autoethnography, Music and Aesthetic Representation (pg 57-72) in Eds: Bartleet, B., & Ellis, C., (2009) Music Autoethnographies: Making Autoethnography Sing/Making Music Personal. Sydney: Australian Academic Press.
Poindexter, C (2015) Naked Human. Monarch Publishing.
TED (2013) Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/uTbA-mxo858
United Visual Artists (2019) The Great Animal Orchestra. [online] Available at: https://vimeo.com/364836175
Williamson, V (2014) You Are the Music: How music reveals what it means to be human. London, Icon Books Ltd.
Please consider supporting Illuminate Women's Music future projects in both live and digital concerts:
Timbre is a fundamental element of my compositions and I always find it fascinating to experience how music can grow organically, almost crystal-like, and gradually unfolding between pitches to create a shimmering complex timbre.
My music has always been inspired by nature and I sometimes attempt to recreate the sounds of natural phenomena. For instance, Saṃsārafor large orchestra was inspired by the continuous movement of a river and the journey of the flow which then reaches the ocean. Psithurismfor solo flute was inspired the sound of rustling through leaves.
Here’s the recording of Psithurism:
My recent solo piano piece Unknownwas written for the Riot Ensemble as part of PRS for music composers’ scheme. This piece was written at the start of lockdown last year and was inspired by the fear of uncertainty, where everything we planned for the future is rapidly changing and vanishing. After completing this piece, I felt the urge to explore and experiment further with new ways of achieving the sense of spaciousness in the music.
A video recording of Unknown performed by Claudia Maria Racoviceancan be seen on here:
This new work Ripple, for cello and piano was written for season II of the Illuminate Women’s Music concert series. It was inspired by the subtle movement of the surface on water and I have attempted to portray and express the visual movements in my score. My intention in this piece was to create something delicate and shimmery, yet powerful and expressive. The piece begins with a poised and powerful opening and gradually increases the tension and density with dramatic changes in dynamics until the cello fades in with high delicate harmonics. A sense of movement slowly develops as the piece progress and the continuity of this ripple-like effect has subtly exchanged the role of foreground and background between the piano and cello part. I have edited a few musical notations in the score after having an insightful workshop session with pianist Rachel Fryer and cellist Ivana Peranic.
And last but not least, I would like to say Thank You to Illuminate Women’s Music for commissioning me to write a new piece for Illuminate Season II 2021 concert series and I am looking forward to the premiere in Brighton on 1st October!
Please consider supporting Illuminate Women's Music future projects in both live and digital concerts:
possible triggers - the chaos narrative looks at illness and trauma
As part of a reading group*, I had been researching on the chaos narrative; where real-life stories, often based on illness or trauma, do not necessarily follow a linear trajectory, where the world is un-made. These stories trace the edges of a wound, and each narrative is unique to the individual. Most story tellers are not able to pinpoint where the illness started, or indeed where it will end.
What interested me about this, and what I thought about basing a piece from, were three things:
- The treatment of time - in particular time without sequence;
- The often repetitive nature of a chaos narrative, as the story teller has an inability to gather an understanding of the events occurring; and
- The idea of sharing a personal story which is not healed, which is opposite to the popular restitution(resolved) narrative - where the story has resolved, or the narrator has had time to reflect after the event.
How though, could I express heartache of a chaos narrative through composing; an act by the very nature of creating, writing, and editing, has the ability to reflect and shape a narrative. Arthur Frank (1995) writes that “ill people are wounded not just in body but in voice”. The challenge of listening is to refrain moving the narrator away from the difficulty of telling the story. The challenge is to hear. This made me think it could be possible to use concepts of the chaos narrative for a cello piece. I am conscious of this contrast, so wanted to use the idea of controlled or uncontrolled parameters within the piece.
Afterwards, I reflected on these ideas, and decided to workout a concept for the cello piece. Usually, when I’m at this stage of composing, I hear sounds forming, and ideas which I hope the piece will achieve (although, this may change when writing). It helps me work out where the piece is going.
For this particular piece, I thought about events that shouldn’t quite heal (or phrases left unfinished), as if the cello is attempting to express the chaos narrative. The imagine that came to mind for the piece was a wound that had not quite healed, which led me to term Suture, meaning to stitch together, in particular to hold together the edges of a wound.
Musically speaking, I wanted to look at using parameters of tracing a wound, and imagined playing the highest and lowest strings only, omitting the middle range of the instrument (quite simply, the upper and lower strings were the edges). I also imagined double stopping throughout most of the piece.
For the cellist to play only A + C string together, they would have to place the bow in the gap between the string and body. This technique meant that Ivana Peranic (cellist) would be able to double stop the highest and lowest strings. I was aware that the material she could play would be fairly limiting, as
1) the bow technique is not idiosyncratic to a cellist, 2) large leaps would prove impossible 3) and due to the electronics I later use, she would not be able to play very loud, so dynamics were limiting - unless feedback was a desired result (which isn’t in this piece).
Although the chaos narrative may perhaps lend itself to being ‘chaotic’, there are several limitations in the stories at play too. Below, I’ll try to address how I worked on limitations (control) and chaos (uncontrol).
When first rehearsing over Zoom with Ivana, the techniques I had thought about were very unnatural to a cellist: she is physically pushing the bow away from her instrument, instead of toward it. The space between the strings and body was limiting; producing a smooth bow change was practically impossible. I still wanted to work on this idea, and I knew it would take some time to figure out. For one, the idea of playing at the edges of the instrument appealed, and also the unnatural technique meant that at times Ivana may not be in control of this technique. Fortunately, Ivana was on board and had some wonderful suggestions. During the Zoom call, we had a chat about how the difference of pushing away sounded, and how it affected phrasing and timbre. We looked at really slowing the down the bow, which helped a lot (and created a very fragile sound world that was close to my original ideas). Later, within the electronics, I decided to add a small amount of sustain and reverb to support the unusual bow technique. This not only supported the bow technique, but also blended well with the rest of the electronics.
During our second in-person rehearsal, the end of the bow would occasionally ‘knock’ under the bridge, or even catch the edge of the cello. Ivana asked if this was okay, as if not she would have to figure out how to stop the sporadic ‘battuto’ from happening, but this gave an uncontrolled element to the bowing which is what I was after. What at first sounded like a fairly limited technique, produced an array of textures, timbres, etc., as bow placement, pressure, speed, and motion, were all still possible between the body of the cello and strings.
The material is mapped out in to several sections, and Ivana is welcome to start at which ever section she chooses. Each section is different from the other, however, they some share similar motifs, and (due to the double stopping and other factors), they do sound like they’re cut from the same cloth - nothing drastically changes. I wanted to explore the idea of time, and repetition. Except for a long glissando in one section, there are no large leaps. This is due to the fact that it would be very hard to play smoothly, and also because it feeds into the repetitive nature and suspended sense of time concepts.
During the in-person rehearsal, Ivana commented that she could easily play this for a very long time, however, as this commission is time limited, for the Illuminate concerts, there needed to be some constraints on duration. She could have a timer for herself, but then she would be conscious of the seconds ticking by. We decided for SUTUREthat it would best to avoid this. As I will be performing with Ivana, on electronics, we agreed I would indicate every 1 or 1.5 minutes as a guide. It would still be her decision to play one section for 3 minutes, another for 30 seconds, or all equal measured etc.
The electronics are a series of sine waves which react to whatever Ivana is playing. During the performances, I will decide whether sine waves are played at once (chords) or not (single), if at all, how random or ‘matched’they are to her pitch, and intensity. There are a few other parameters, but these are the main ones. As she will be starting at any part on the score, I will adapt the electronics to that. I do have a rough idea of what I will do with electronics whilst Ivana is playing, however, I wanted to keep an improvised nature about this: I’m not too sure how long each section will be, or if other factors such as the unpredictable bow technique, will change what I play.
After rehearsals to the finished score, what came about was a work that I hope addressed the chaos narrative sensitively.
When we rehearsed SUTURE in Sussex, Ivana was really listening to the electronic sounds being produced (I place the speakers close to her, so the sound of the amplified cello and electronics are as close to the instrument as possible - even for the concerts), and I could hear she was adapting the material I gave her to blend with the electronics. I was also listening to her and adapting the electronics. This communication / listening will happen during the concerts too.
SUTUREalso uses ideas from the meridian lines of a person, in particular the heart protector (Pericardium). As my research, beyond this project investigates somatic practices in composition, I wanted to tie Frank’s (1995) notation of the voiceand bodybeing wounded together in this piece. I’m afraid I may run out of room discussing these ideas further on this blog, however, if you come to a concert this autumn, you're welcome to ask me more about it!
Whilst the score is finished, and I was very pleased with the rehearsal, I am currently viewing the performances as ‘work-in-progress’and the concert as a space in which to share the ideas I presented above. In keeping with the concept that the chaos narrative is an anti-narrative of time without sequence, I’m not sure I would view the work as being ever ‘complete’: or perhaps it is complete in its incompleteness.
I do not have a recording of SUTURE, however you can read about and listen to my piece
Etching Circles (2019), for piano, violin, and cello here
SUTUREwill be performed by Ivana Peranic as part of Illuminate Season II concerts in autumn 2021.
*I would like to mention and thank Simon Fox, a member of the reading group, who introduced me to research on the Chaos Narrative.
Frank, A (1995). The Wounded Storyteller.Chicago. The University of Chicago Press
Vickers, M (2003) Chaos Narratives to Reinstate the Voice of a Survivor of Mental Illness: A (Partial) Life Story. UK.Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Welbanks, V (2016) Foundations of Modern Cello Technique: Creating the Basis for a Pedagogical Method. PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Woolf, V. (1930) On Being Ill. Reprint. Connecticut. The Paris Press (Wesleyan University Press), 2002.
Mozart never had to worry about morning sickness. In 2008, around drinks and celebrating a recent premier of my work by the Millikin University Percussion Ensemble, Choral Music Director Michael Engelhardt and I brainstormed musical ideas around choir and electronics and percussion. That impromptu brainstorm led to a commission for the Creation Oratorio, a multilingual intermedia work for chorus, percussion, keyboard, tape and computer animation.
The musical sketches, birthed from the creation myth and other sacred texts, combined Afro-Cuban rhythms with my characteristic (and sometimes creepy) electronic tracks and full women’s choir. I envisioned a work a full hour or more in length, accompanied by complex computer animation and surreal imagery.
CREATION ORATORIO HIGHLIGHTS
Fate has a twisted sense of humor.
Shortly after I began working on the oratorio I became pregnant with my first child. I was ecstatic! A daughter! However, what I didn’t know was that, like my mother and my Abuela, I suffer from extreme hyperemesis gravidarum. What this meant was that I found myself much more often than not, in fact up to ten times a day, vomiting. The time in between spent sipping Ginger Ale and munching on crackers and vitamin drinks to keep baby and I alive. And if that sounds horrible and a little gross, it is much worse than you can picture.
At the time I was an adjunct music professor. I spent time between classes trying to keep food down. I lived only five minutes from campus but even that was too far, and I often spent hours a day inert in bed watching mindless TV shows to keep my mind off nausea and pain.
But I had an oratorio to write.
The bulk of my musical process takes place in my mind. When writing a new work I often immerse myself in music and thought for months at a time. I write film scores, too, and will find like minded artists to listen to for inspiration. I let the notes I hear inform the notes I create. Experimentation and improvisation play a key role. I jot down chicken scratch sketches on paper, using graphic notation indicating melodies, timbres, sound synthesis, and vocalizations.
TED TALK ON OPERA AND TECHNOLOGY
I often worked for hours on the oratorio, transferring my musical ideas into Finale. I would improvise on a Malletkat I got from Pauline Oliveros, from when I interned at the Deep Listening Gallery. My cat would wrap around my legs as I played, sometimes jumping on the keys and scratching at them mercilessly trying to catch the flying mallets. My cat didn’t like the Malletkat much.
The child forming inside of me began informing the music I wrote. I saw parallels between the formation of life from a void in the mysteries happening within my own body. What did she look like? What was she doing? It was mysterious to me, and in some ways, a miracle. My younger self never thought I would be in a place in life where bringing a child into the world would be welcomed. Yet here I was, a living vessel for a miracle. In the same way, Creation stared so small as a speck of an idea and morphed into a massive musical masterpiece.
As a Latina and a concert percussionist I often think in terms of the rhythm and timbre of my youth. The complex polyrhythms I heard growing up in South Florida have left indelible impressions on my musical psyche. Decades of drumming and technology give me a musical ear that parses out sound in terms of timbre and syncopation and dissonance, married to sound synthesis and electroacoustic experimentation and embracing the broad global diaspora. Creationincorporated African drumming ensembles and complex polyrhythms echoing the sounds of Cuba and West Africa, familiar rhythms from the ancient past.
The computer animation I created morphed fetal images from the womb with nature and the female form. I created a kind of sacred ballet with almost alien like silhouettes moving to the music in a sea of surreal space. An experimental video artist and filmmaker, my visual works often seem like out-of-this-world “moving paintings”, with even my narrative works having a distinct look and feel to them reminiscent of a life obsessed with early works in science fiction, suspense, and horror cinema.
By the time I was finishing the final notes of the oratorio, I had given birth to my beautiful girl Eva Rose. Eva meaning “Eve” or “first woman” in Spanish and in Danish, the languages of my spouse’s and my predecessors. I sampled my child’s young cries and added them to the first Movement, tiny newborn strains echoing in the animated firmament.
In the end the Creation Oratorio premiered to a packed hall, performed by the Millikin University Women’s choir and Millikin University Percussion Ensemble. The work later won the New Genre Prize from the International Alliance for Women in Music, with excerpts from the larger composition remaining some of my more popularly performed compositions like Light, an homage that in some ways is a cosmic love song.
The journey of a composition often begins much like life – a tiny invisible formless thought that evolves into a beautiful creation.
Since the Creation Oratorio I have had the opportunity to explore music and animation in extraordinary ways, from my animation science fiction virtual opera Libertaria to the Malletkat Fantasy Destiny: Eondwyr, to dozens of film scores and video projects. It has been an incredible journey. My art delves into a world of science fiction, technology, and rhythm – combining them into often epic sonic explorations.
During the pandemic year I admit that trying to simply survive has taken precedence over musical creation. Yet, as performers, composers, artists, and filmmakers emerge from the shadows again, ready to create, I look forward to a Renaissance of new music and art as humanity learns how to live again.
Download the score for Light: https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/light-for-soprano-and-piano-digital-sheet-music/21704395
Award-winning Latina composer best known for her futuristic animated opera Libertariaand decades of women’s arts advocacy. An international leader in internet collaboration and media technology, Peña Young gave a TEDx Talk on the importance of crowdsourcing, virtual spaces, and media arts in Buffalo, New York. Her works have been featured on NPR, Art Basil Miami, Opera America NYC, and countless venues on six continents. Recipient of the prestigious Cintas Foundation Brandon Fradd Composer Fellowship and the Lois Weber Filmmaker Award and author of the educational workbook Composer Boot Camp. Peña Young has worked in social justice with houseless populations and taught nontraditional and students at-risk for two decades before moving into digital marketing and media. A busy mom and first generation American, Peña Young has a passion for equitable education for all, regardless of zip code. Peña Young continues to create new music and works in progressive politics while pandemic schooling her young children.
Curation is one of my favourite facets of artistry. I adore researching diverse composers, exploring compositions across different eras, genres and styles, and pondering the themes of individual works and how they fit into larger structures. For this blog post, I reflect upon my curation process for my upcoming concert with Illuminate Women’s Music on May 19, 2021.
This process began back in August 2020 when Dr. Angela Slater and I reconnected through a virtual concert featuring the premiere of her solo double bass cycle: A door to yesterday. After some conversation, I was delighted when Dr. Slater invited me to perform on Illuminate Women’s Music 2020-2021 virtual concert series! One piece that I knew I definitely wanted to program was Dr. Kamala Sankaram’s “Ololyga” for solo voice and electronics. Dr. Sankaram’s piece was inspired by Anne Carson’s essay The Gender of Sound, which defines an “Ololyga” as “a high pitched piercing cry uttered at certain climactic moments in ritual practice...or at climactic moments in real life...and also a common feature of women’s festivals” (Carson -- 125).
As the months wore on, one of my mentors suggested that I apply for a New York Women Composers, Inc. (NYWC) seed grant in conjunction with this concert. One of the grant requirements was a “presentation of a concert featuring the works of three or more composer-members of New York Women Composers for at least half of the project’s time-length. At least one of the NYWC composers chosen must be new to the performers.” While researching the composers in NYWC before applying, I noticed that several had works for voice and piano, which inspired me to invite my wonderful pianist colleague, Julia Scott Carey, to collaborate on the concert.
After a competitive process, I was one of 4 performers chosen to receive a grant from New York Women Composers, Inc.! Shortly thereafter, NYWC arranged a call for scores for its members to submit pieces for this performance. While analyzing the 48 submissions, the curatory process truly began.
Through the lens of “Ololyga,” I decided that my concert would tie into themes of embracing women’s voices and ritual. However, given this ‘top-down’ approach, I quickly grew frustrated trying to find pieces that were explicitly related to these themes. Upon using a ‘bottom-up approach,’ I felt the program start to curate itself organically. Whenever I considered a piece, I asked myself the following questions:
These questions guided my program through several iterations, as I explored the 48 NYWC submissions and several other compositions by non-NYWC composers. Significantly, this process of critical inquiry took a spiritual turn as I began to view each composition as an entity with a soul. When engaging with a piece, I imagined myself asking it, “What is your story?” “Do you want to be on this program, and if so, where?”
Upon deciding to start the program with Sabrina Peña Young’s gorgeous solo vocal arrangement of “Light” from her Creation Oratorio and end with Beata Moon’s emotionally poignant “Time to Reflect,” the outer edges of the program came into focus, providing a trajectory from the cosmos to the soul.
From there, Anne Phillips’s hauntingly beautiful song cycle, An Alaskan Trilogy, naturally came after “Light” -- given the prevalence of G minor in both works, the cyclical nature of the lyrics (“Light” celebrating daybreak and An Alaskan Trilogy starting with poet, Phoebe Newman’s evocation: “Every evening, the world is reborn”), and the idea of moving from the large-scale cosmos to the smaller-scale Earth.
As the programming process went on, I noticed connections between certain pieces. For instance, while considering Svjetlana Bukvich’s “Tattoo” from her dance commission Interior Designs, I noticed that Dr. Sankaram, the composer of “Ololyga,” gave the world premiere of the piece! I immediately programmed “Tattoo” directly after “Ololyga,” enjoying the striking musical juxtaposition, how the narrative moved from “self” to “self in relation to others,” and the homage to Dr. Sankaram’s multifaceted artistry.
(Link to Interior Designs) - commissioned by Carolyn Dorman Dance. Start at 21:54 to hear Dr. Sankaram’s premiere of “Tattoo.”
Another programmatic connection occurs between Dr. Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s “The Window” and Mason Bynes’s “The House,” both of which address different kinds of love. Dr. Nourbakhsh writes in her program note: “We all have a window within ourselves to surpass time, surpass injustices, and to achieve freedom. And in order to open this window within us, we can do nothing but deliriously love.” In contrast, Ms. Bynes’s “The House” “captures the buzzing anxiousness of a first love, with repetitive tones of endearment and sweet nothings.” Perhaps it’s subjective, but I like to imagine that in Dr. Nourbakhsh’s piece, we are seeing one window in the corner of Ms. Bynes’s house, and between the two pieces, the mind’s eye zooms out to encapsulate the entire house built on a foundation of love.
An important lesson that I learned throughout the process was to allow for change. Initially, there was a song cycle that I really wanted to feature, but no matter where I tried placing it, it didn’t fit well with the rest of the program. Frustrated, I chose not to program the cycle, and instead research some other works. Less than an hour after that decision, I was listening to Margaret Bonds’s unapologetically feminist and deliciously chromatic song cycle, Six Songs on Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I knew that I had to sing it. By marrying instinct and analysis, I was able to physically feel when my programming was in alignment and justify my choices intellectually and emotionally.
Finally, one of the loveliest surprises was when my collaborator, Julia Scott Carey, offered to play two solo piano works-- Mari Kotskyy’s “Winter Song” and Sungji Hong’s “Bell Song”-- on this program! From a musical perspective, I am extremely excited about the contrast of instrumentation and for Julia to shine as a soloist. Furthermore, by opening up the curation process to multiple people, I feel that it enriches the program and allows for a greater sense of agency.
To conclude, From the Cosmos to the Soul: A Celebration of Women’s Music, is one of my favourite musical curations to date. I hope that this program allows space for presence, a sense of connection to all life, and a celebration of several amazing women composers in 20th and 21st century music. For a final fun fact, all of the texts on this program are written by women: Sabrina Peña Young, Phoebe Newman, Svjetlana Bukvich, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Forugh Farrokhzad, Gertrude Stein, and Claire Lind.
I am deeply grateful to Dr. Slater for inviting me to perform, Julia for her collaboration, all of the composers for their generosity, time and feedback, New York Women Composers, Inc. for helping to support this concert, Paul Holmes for his engineering, and Eunbi Kim for her continued mentorship throughout this entire process. If you have any questions about my curation process, please feel free to reach out to me at https://www.rosehegele.com/contact-1.
Bukvich, Svjetlana. “Interior Designs.” YouTube, uploaded by svjetlanamusic, 5 October 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMKKj_Ld0ps
Bynes, Mason. The House. Boston: Mason Bynes Publishing Co. 2019. Print.
Carson, Anne. “The Gender of Sound.” Glass, irony, and God. New York: New Directions Book, 1995. Print.
“New view of the Pillars of Creation — infrared Heic1501b.” ESA/Hubble. Licensed under Creative Commons by 4.0.
Newman, Phoebe. Why Faith Abides. Date Unknown. Print.
Nourbakhsh, Niloufar. Program note about “The Window.” 16 May 2021.
Resonant Bodies Festival. “Kamala Sankaram - Ololyga - Resonant Bodies Festival 2017.” Youtube, uploaded by Resonant Bodies Festival. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K58CjQo6Sgk
Van Vechten, Carl. “Margaret Bonds.” 1956. Library of Congress: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14532 Accessed 17 May 2021.
Please consider supporting Illuminate Women's Music future projects in both live and digital concerts:
I’m a Polish of Vietnamese descent composer and pianist currently pursuing a Ph.D. in composition at the University of Pennsylvania. I will share some of my more recent works and trends that my compositions have tended to gravitate towards since 2018.
Only a few years ago I discovered that I could combine my two passions – music and languages – in my work. It began during the summer of 2018, when I was commissioned to write a song for mezzo soprano, piano and percussion. With an approaching deadline and not being able to find a literary piece that fit my needs and that was on public domain, I decided to try what I had always feared: writing the words myself. I then began playing with the Polish language and sounds by creating a list of homophonic words and similar sounding phonemes of the sound ż/rz [ʐ]. Next, I created a narrative using the words from the list using an unconventional structure. The structure heavily relies on the idea of addition and subtraction: addition is about building up from a single syllable to a whole sentence using homophones, and subtraction about removing the first syllable of every subsequent line. For the last word of the subtracted phrase, I made sure to choose words that would still make sense on their own, even after being deconstructed into fewer syllables. For example, umrzemy (we'll die)àrzemy, not a word, but sounds like że my (that we) àmy (we). Another example would be z tęsknoty (from yearning) àno Ty (well you) àTy (you).
I wrote the song a może...that summer and then two more songs later that year to complete the song cycle Gra dźwięków, gra słów(Soundplay, wordplay): Stół z powyłamywanymi nogami(a table with broken legs) which sets a Polish tongue twister and extensively plays with the syllabic nature of the words, and Płakała zapałka(a crying match) that sets another poem of mine and plays with the ł [w] sound. A year later, the poem a może... also ended up heavily influencing another piece, I yearn, therefore I am for string quartet. Specific pitches and techniques were assigned to specific words and syllables, lengths of sections were either directly or inversely proportional to the lengths of the verses, and the character of the music expressed the emotional meaning of the text. Since writing that first poem, I discovered that I was drawn to writing musicaltexts and exploring the interplay between linguistical sound properties and meanings. To me, the process of composing text and music is almost identical — from careful crafting of individual sounds to designing the large-scale structure of the work. Some like to say that music is a language, but I believe the opposite — that language is music.
Concurrently, another topic that became fascinating to me was time perception in music. This obsession was prompted a few years ago by a series of difficult life events that led me to experience time in a new way: time without motion. I realized that music could manipulate time perception so that the listener would experience time that moves either faster or slower than the time outside of music. My experience of slowing down of time or even losing time perception gave birth to Against Time for solo piano. This piece features a prominent note repetition, which symbolizes two paradoxical ideas of time: time suspension because repetition suggests stability, but also its flow, because on a percussive instrument like the piano, one has to keep pressing the key overtime to make sounds. Towards the end of the piece, with only finite energy that can go into stretching time, this energy eventually becomes depleted, leading to an eruption. Time suddenly runs faster than usual making up for the past.
I have also combined my musical interests in language and time, which resulted in my piece Tik-Tak commissioned by the TAK ensemble. Due to the name of the ensemble and the fact that in Polish, “tak” means yes, such as, as if, as much, etc., I wanted to use this percussive vocal sound and the various meanings of “tak” in my poem. Tik-Tak(or tick-tock) – the incessant sounds of the ticking clocks – is a commentary on time that moves on mercilessly and irrevocably. Any meaningful moment that one would like to hold on to a little longer... vanishes forever, as if nothing had happened. The song juxtaposes music that is clock-like and rhythmic with music that is timeless and arrhythmic. My next piece that continues the explorations of time and writing text is the chamber opera Through the Doors. Through this large-scale piece, I am writing a libretto in English and the topic of time manipulation is one of the main themes of the plot.
Besides working on this opera and other smaller projects, I am very much looking forward to Tanglewood, which was initially supposed to happen in the summer of 2020. Due to the pandemic, it was held virtually that summer, which is when I got to meet Angela. Although we met virtually, I am so grateful to her and the Illuminate Women’s Music for giving me the opportunity to present and perform a recital of my solo piano works, and for introducing me to Maggie Cox who did a recital of solo double bass music which included my piece Sept Vignettes. Although Tanglewood is now postponed to 2022 for composers, I can’t wait to meet all the composer fellows and hear music live. I’m sure that by the time this prolonging pandemic will be over, time will take on a new meaning for all of us.
Ivy Benson was an English musician and bandleader, who led an all-female swing band. A blue plaque at her home in Holbeck reads: “…Her appointment as the BBC’s Resident Dance Band in 1943 confirmed her significant contribution to women’s equality.”
There are many more women saxophonists shooting from the hip from 1970s onwards.
Part 2 ——--
The majority of my chamber music experience has involved playing music written by male composers and withmale musicians. I’ve enjoyed it hugely. I absolutely love playing chamber music and feel extremely lucky to have worked with some incredible musicians.
And now I’m looking forwards to playing new and old repertoire by women composers with the pianist, Yshani Perinpanayagam. Again, I feel extremely lucky to work with these incredible musicians.
So why do we need to be so gender specific? Music is sound, transportation, communication. Sex comes pretty far down the list, on the whole.
And there are horrific, horrific violent atrocities happening across the world to women - and let’s be honest - the majority of victims will not be white women.
So why? How can this project be relevant?
And here I must introduce the composer Clare Loveday. Full of crystal clear thoughts, quick wit and shrewd first-hand observations of inequality of both gender and race in the beautiful but complicated lands of South Africa.
On a Wednesday afternoon in June, we zoomed from a rainy Crystal Palace to a wintery Johannesburg to catch up. She told me that after the lockdown alcohol ban in Johannesburg was lifted there were 11 reported rapes in just 48 hours. That sexism and racism is so deeply tangled into patriarchal society that be raising awareness is an open invitation to make yourself extremely unpopular.
I remembered a quote Clare shared once by Susie Orchbach, best known for her book Fat is a Feminist Issue. Orbach writes about passivity: "Surely activity is more pleasurable and rewarding than passivity? Not necessarily. For a variety of reasons, passivity has become the psychological result of the internalisation of the messages about self-identity. It happens rather like this: a pattern has become established in which a person's original initiatives were disregarded; this happens to all of us some of the time without being troublesome, but the continual thwarting, misreading and ridiculing of initiative creates a sense inside a person that what they produce, that what emanates from them, is somehow not quite right. They may present themselves and their desires differently and, if they are still not heard or seen, they may get angry, they may withdraw, they may comply and look as though they are not in trouble; they will have absorbed the message that it is better not to show."
Clare Loveday continues to say: “The sexism and violence towards women in this country permeates every aspect of life. The woman in our story has led a relatively contained life but has been a victim of violence. Her friends have been raped, beaten, are almost routinely humiliated. The tiny pockets of immense privilege may protect a few lovely young women for a short while, but the reality of the outside world is beating at the windows. This violence is not only physical; it manifests in a thousand ways. And this little story is just a small sample of a much much bigger picture. We should never fool ourselves into thinking that ignoring a woman shouting to be heard, or ignoring her revulsion at your sexist comment, is not an act of violence on her. For what is the purpose of violence if it is not to silence.”
I admitted I’m lucky. I struggle with ‘white guilt’. I live on a cosy if quite complicated Island. I could complain, but don’t need too. I’m lucky. Clare replied,
“White guilt is, for me, about my extraordinary good fortune at having been born white into a system that powerfully advantaged those with white skins. The effects of this are long, complicated and inescapable.
I feel zip white guilt in the UK. I shouted at beggars in Oxford. I was a monster white person. I'm always astonished by how white the UK is and how I can just blend into the pale background. You (Naomi) don't come from a stinking rich and privileged background. You work harder than anyone I know and any born privilege you've had comes from being born British (like being able to travel without visas, grrrrr) rather than white.
Yes, the UK is cosy, up to a point. It isn't ridden with crime, or desperate poverty, or the vestige of colonialism (it _should_ have a vestige of colonialism but has managed to dodge that one neatly by very British denial). It is rich, really rich. But it's hard too, as you well know - I don't have to detail that for you”.
So I asked her: How can this project, Illuminate, be relevant?
During a time that makes it difficult to look forwards, creating new music – with Yshani, Angela, Lara, Nina and Rachel – whilst looking back and learning from the past seems a luxurious lockdown pastime. And whilst I try to untangle loop pedals and pre-amps, it’s comforting to look back and think about ends and beginnings. And realise that never before have I appreciated my musical comrades so much. Here is to seeing you again soon and making some real noise.
Clare Loveday’s City Deep: https://vimeo.com/289882439
Transit of Venushttps://soundcloud.com/naomisullivan/venus-naomi-stereo