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
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