another dance - open score for violin and guitar - ca. 3’
Shiko - for amplified flute - ca. 6’
I met composer Angela Elizabeth Slater in 2016, during a BFE/RMA conference in Bangor, North Wales; where a few composers were selected to have pieces workshopped and performed by Okeanos ensemble. I had composed the work while studying with Katarina Rosenberg at UCSD, with support of a Bliss Trust Scholarship for artistic development in USA. Whilst there, I had months to work, uninterruptedly, on my practice, during which time, I had cocooned myself to create a series of graphic notation that felt very intuitive to me. A practice which I have continued with for two and a half years, and something which I had integrated into my score for Okeanos, at Bangor.
For all of my pieces, I write by hand, which slows down my output but means, for me, each note, line, or gesture, is made with intention and care. I feel it is important for a performer to receive a work with beauty and intention. Since all we give performers is lines on paper (or iPads) I feel this is my gift to them, and should make it special.
For this blog, I would like to especially write about the two pieces for the Illuminate project, another dance and Shiko, although I will mainly touch upon my work surrounding this project, and concepts used - as I hope it gives you an understanding of my approach to composition. Once these two pieces are performed, for me at least, they will feel more tangible.
I am grateful that Angela created this opportunity, and honoured to be a part of the 2018 Illuminate Women Composer’s and Performer’s series.
another dance, an open score for violin and guitar
The score for another dance was taken from my collaborative work Chalk.Body.Barrow. with dancers Eleven Farrer House. I wrote electronic music for their site specific dance, on Wolstonbury Hill, Sussex, which was funded by Rebecca Skelton Fund and Arts Council England.
another dance is a memoir of my time spent with them; I was there during rehearsals and the performances. The open score can therefore be defined as a non-representation of the dance, and a reflection on how both sound and movement both pivot between similar worlds: dealing with time and spatialisation. The shear preparation for rehearsals was a performance in itself - the hill could only be walked to, and so we had to carry all the equipment by hand and barrow, often uphill on small dirt tracks. Needless to say, before they began dancing, and myself composing, we already had a work out. After this time spent with dancers, and I had finished their music for this dance, I started work for another dance.
We decided from the outset that the music would be electronic, and that there would be four speakers placed inside portable clay pots, making wonderful resonances, and could be placed and moved to difference spots on the hill
What is particularly interesting to highlight for another dance, is the sounds I used for the hill project was taken from recorded samples of my previously performed graphic notation, which are in turn based on memoirs of dancers. In essence, my graphic notation can be described as a feedback loop; the music for Chalk.Body.Barrow. was taken from recordings of previous graphic notation, which were based on a previous dance. Chalk.Body.Barrow. has informed my graphic work for another dance (a more accurate title would perhaps be another dance within another dance). The first graphic notation I created in this way was whilst collaborating with Phoenix Dance Theatre, in Leeds, 2015, where I received much encouragement from Keneth Hesketh in the composer’s voice. I have since written over 100 open scores, mainly in my collection entitled OMAV (Of Minerals and Ventricles) but another dance will be the first one with a specific instrumentation in mind.
And so this project is multifaceted; they can be used as performance pieces, to record and for the samples to be used for material in a larger work, and also for another piece which I am creating for my PhD in practice-based research at Goldsmiths, University of London, supervised by Patricia Alessandrini.
On writing open scores:
When writing my score, I clear my workspace, so I have no indication of time - as I leave clocks out of the room, and if there’s a phone or computer, I switch it off - and begin to meditate. Within this space, after some time, I begin to prepare my paper and pens and work on my non-representational memoir of the dance (including rehearsal, and preparation). I allow the pen to go over the paper and whatever the outcome, is a finished score. When I first started this graphic notation, I had no instruction for the performer, and felt apprehensive that performers might need something to go on, or to communicate my meditation in written word. However, performers I’ve had the pleasure of working with, have felt that there is enough information in the score themselves; they have been written with intention and gesture. When people ask me how long it has taken me to write them, I have no idea of duration. Since my workspace is without time, I have not calculated how long I meditate, prepare the paper (sometimes including cutting down to size and drawing the staffs) to creating the notation. I leave the same playfulness to the performer.
For another dance the time is predetermined, to fit within the programme, and so I invite the violinist Sabina Virtosu and guitarist Cassandra Matthews to treat it as a miniature work, with a duration of no longer than three minutes. If the time was longer, I would prepare several cards, and ask the duo to view them as movements. The parameters I have given myself are aesthetic, I cut the card to the same size, use the same pen, the same ink, and keep the notation within the same world - lines, dashes, and often circles. The score can be read however the performers chooses, some read it as a linear format, others choose to see the intentions and gestures as a whole, and others as a continuous drone, with quasi-baroque ornaments entwined. Even with these examples, there is no right or wrong way to perform these works.
Since another dance will be a World Premiere, I have no audio examples, so to get a flavour of my open scores, here is a recent performance of one of the graphic scores taken from the OMAV collection, performed at Estalagem da Ponta do Sol Contemporary Music and Electronics Residency, Madeira (Portugal). Another OMAV score was featured in Notations, Canadian Music Centre Magazine, and so I also enclose a link to that as well, http://issuu.com/canadianmusiccentre/docs/cmc_spring2016_final_v2/56
Open Score Example: Amy Bryce (flute), Karin Hellqvist (violin), Joan Jordi Oliver (saxophone), and Marina Sibyl (voice), performance of one graphic notation from the OMAV collection. A Cappella de São Sebastião, Madeira, Portugal.12th January 2018
Composer: Sarah Westwood
Shiko, for amplified flute
A dog drifting off…
their eyes closed… with twitching paws
playing in a dream*
Before I started work on this piece, I woke up from a dream with flutes, clouds and the sound of the wind. I can remember little else except the sound and quality, and knew there was a piece for solo flute brewing in my subconscious. I find it fascinating how much working out, or inventing, we do whilst sleeping. Sometimes with my friends, we tell each other our dreams, and before I mentioned this dream to anyone, the next day I got a message from a good friend of mine, to say he had a dream about some flute music I was writing, even though I had not told anyone I was writing this.
From this dream encounter, I decided to focus my thoughts upon the possibilities of dream sharing: by having a similar (or the same) dream to other people, and also in sharing dream stories with friends. Rather than try to interpret dreams into music, I wanted to look at one particular aspect: what are our bodies doing during our most vivid dreams, and whether (for me, at least) Shiko can reveal moments of dream sharing.
Unless the sleeper is a heavy snorer, or talks in their dream, the act of sleeping appears soft, quiet - movements perhaps juxtaposed with the internal dream. For that reason, I decided to make the levels of the flautist reflect the sleeper, and use some amplification so to hear the nuances in a larger space.
I also thought about some of our physical traits when we dream; how our heart rate and breathing can become irregular; how the dog mentioned above may begin to shiver (as our body temperature fluxes); how our closed-eyes begin to rapidly move (r.e.m). From a compositional point of view, it was nice to discover our eye movements are likely to loop back to their original starting point, and begin moving rapidly again in a similar pattern, and that about seven of these loops take place over one minute of r.e.m sleep. Since my work is less direct representations, I’ve enjoyed taking this information and exploring it, mixing it with tones and phrases I remember from my initial dream about the piece.
Shiko uses proportional notation, so depending on the performer, or concert space, there is a flow of phrases and pauses. This style of notation allows the performer to interpret the information freely, which mirrors the personal touch of dreaming. We may sleep for the same amount of time, with the same phases of sleep (of 90minutes), perhaps even a similar dream, but our rhythm and breath will be unique; so Shiko will last for 6’, with the flautist having this amount time to perform the piece.
Proportional Notation Example: Hong Kong New Music Ensemble: Chiu Chan Ching (guzheng), Euna Kim (violin), Selena Choi (violin), William Lane (viola), and Zhu Mu (cello), performance of ‘The Hands We Used to Make Were Clay’
Paralelní Polis, Prague.6th May 2016
Composer: Sarah Westwood
When working on the flute piece, I was creating an electronic work for LA based architect and artist Moses Hacmon, for his work and art Faces of Water**. As I watched his work, I reflected on my cloud dream, how the atmosphere is mostly water, and so we are living and dreaming within a current of water waves. In all of my work, there are no symbolisms, direct references, or word painting, but I hope an energy imprinted from the inspiration. Therefore, anyone listening to Shiko might pick up on a water-esque quality: as I might be working on a few projects at once, ideas could feed one another, or my personal emotions to soak into my musical decisions. I don’t work, compose or meditate in a vacuum.
Eleven Farrer House: http://www.elevenfarrerhouse.com/
Estalagem da Ponta do Sol Contemporary Music and Electronics: https://www.madeiraresidency.com/
Phoenix Dance Theatre: https://www.phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk/
Hong Kong New Music Ensemble: https://www.hongkongnewmusic.org/
Moses Hacmon: http://www.facesofwater.com/water-portraits
Jouvet, Michel (1999). The Paradox of Sleep: The Story of Dreaming. Originally Le Sommeil et le Rêve, 1993. Translated by Laurence Garey. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Mallick, B. N., & S. Inoué (1999). Rapid Eye Movement Sleep. New Delhi: Narosa Publishing House; distributed in the Americas, Europe, Australia, & Japan by Marcel Dekker Inc (New York).
Dr Helen Thomas