As an artist, I have been fortunate enough to explore and create alongside many amazing musicians, all of whom have had an influence on my practice. For me, it is important that my music reflects both my most recent love of contemporary music and electronic music, as well as the film scores and rock bands which first influenced me as a teenager in a small town in the North of England.
While I was studying my undergraduate degree in Music and Popular Music at the University of Liverpool, I dabbled in writing pieces for chamber ensembles, for audio visual media including video games, and I began exploring the creation of pieces using Max MSP for solo instruments and live electronics, such as this piece ‘Summer Storms’ (
I have also worked on more collaborative residencies, the most recent one which was organised by Brighter Sound and Delia Derbyshire Day included 14 young womxn sonic and visual artists coming together to create works inspired by the work of the electronic music pioneer best known as the artist behind the sounds of Dr. Who, Delia Derbyshire.
During my master’s degree at Goldsmiths, I had the opportunity to move away from using traditional Western notation and explore more open scoring methods instead. Through exploration within different workshops, my most recent works have become centred around the concept of touch and how it can be used as a tool to address the problems of authorship, collaboration and hierarchy within music making. By focusing on touch, traditional concepts of virtuosity, hierarchy of performers and composers, gender stereotypes and instruments are challenged. Instead the relationships between ourselves and our instrument become prominent. Below are the three different methods of scoring that I explored; a text based score focused on touch, the body and an instrument, a device designed to send a touch based score to performers and graphic scores created by people with varying levels of musical knowledge using the record player as a compositional tool.
When I was approached by Angela to write a piece for Illuminate Women’s music, I was originally going to create a piece which was in response to feelings I had after a very difficult year for me health wise both physically and mentally. I wanted to create a dark, complex piece with fixed notation for the saxophone piano, something which could be as ugly as how I was feeling, something less academic and more selfish. However, the more I worked on it, the more I realised that for me personally I wasn’t creating a piece I enjoyed or could appreciate and it wasn’t providing any relief or therapy either. I stopped and reflected on why I wanted to create this piece and what I really wanted to explore or question.
I realised one of the most frustrating parts of this difficult time was the unpredictability of it, how I sometimes felt powerless and confused. Upon reflection, although there were some things I could not change, I could shape and change other parts of my life, especially with the help of other people who were close to me. It was this unpredictability that I decided to play with and after making a couple of pieces featuring non-standard notation, this piece became a great opportunity to further explore the ideas that more open scoring methods allow within composition. I wanted to make this unpredictability key to the piece and twist it into a good thing, something the piece needed to have in order to work and how there is beauty in the fact that every performance will be different and reflect different ideas. It was moments of exploring and connection that helped me through uncertainty and I wanted to give this more attention and use this as a focal point rather than trying to create a piece which purely vented my frustrations. By doing this, the piece became more honest and therapeutic, something which I hope is heard during the performance.
The title of my piece, Raidho (also spelt as Rad, or Raido) is the elder futhark runeᚱ, which means to ride, travel and in some pagan circles reflects the idea of journey and change. I liked the idea of this being a symbol which represents both life and the compositional process. When I am working on a piece, the composition is not simply the resulting piece, the dots on the page or the final recording, instead it is a process and journey. Some elements are fixed and clear from the beginning, such as sound worlds or melodies which a composer really wants to use, but other elements take time to carve out and realise and sometimes they turn out to be completely different to what you anticipated. This to me is analogous to life and particularly the last few months, where I have had he change to grow and recover and I have been on a crazy, amazing and difficult journey.
One of the first ideas that I ended up using in Raidho occurred when I was exploring different prepared piano techniques after sneaking back into the Liverpool University music department. I used a glass tumbler as a slide on the strings. The sound itself is unstable, a key element of this piece. As you drag the glass across the strings higher drone like notes ring out as well as the glissando up or down on the strings, creating a delicate and unstable texture when combined with the more unstable multiphonics and other techniques on the saxophone during the opening section. (listen below).
The piece features both elements of more ‘fixed notation’ as well as graphic elements, text instructions and descriptive words to help shape elements of the improvisation in order to create different moments of chaos or beauty or uncertainty. For example, the opening features more fixed gestures for both players, which can be played more freely and openly. The middle section is a graphic score, featuring shapes and a description of the overall mood and texture of the section, with small notated ‘markers’ to help push the piece forwards to the final section, which is two sets of pitches which the performers must improvise around to create a naïve, delicate and childlike sound world. Raidho also features a timeline to help keep the improvisations on track and push the piece forward without rushing sections too much, something which Yshani and Naomi thought could be useful while using a timer in the piece.
I wanted the performers, Yshani and Naomi, to shape the overall piece through their improvisations just as much as the score guides their actions in each time frame. This is something that I enjoy about working with performers; it is not their ability to accurately portray specific ideas that are on paper but what they can personally add to the piece to make it theirs as well as mine. They also have to switch places on stage, with Yshani inside the piano, on the opposite side to the keys, and Naomi sat on the piano stool holding down the sustain pedal with her foot (see pic below)This was decided in order to create a new dynamic between the two performers which is more physically connected and intimate. Raidho relies on improvisation, communication and focuses on the relationship between the players and the composer in a different way to that used in a fixed notated score. We must relent our power and control and hope that it will pay off, which will happen when working with players who are open minded and enjoy this kind of process.
I’m looking forward to seeing and listening to Yshani and Naomi’s interpretation of the different elements of the score and the similarities and differences in the improvised elements during each performance, giving each concert a different angle and spin of the ideas within the piece.
I hope to see you at one of the concerts, check out the other blogs already up by Lara Poe and Nina Danon and keep an eye out for other contributions by Angela, Blair and the team at Illuminate Women’s Music!