At One

stunning night view

The Holy Isle – stupas, pier, view of Arran

At One

For string quartet and trumpet.

This work was written by me, with the idea of bestowing healing and calmness – a feeling of being at one with the world.  It is strongly influenced by jazz, in style, and also in method of composition.  I started this composition by setting out chords on the strings, and improvising over them for the trumpet part – this provides the opening of the piece.

In the very last section, the trumpeter has the option of either playing the pre-written part, or of improvising within specified parameters over the strings, which play the same chords as in the opening of the piece. In this performance, the trumpeter has chosen to improvise.  You can hear the abrupt change in melodic style at this point!  Until the final bar which was pre-written.

Performed here by the Impromptu Quartet and Clare Thorne on trumpet, at Lauderdale House, London, 2012. 

 

Swing Abeba

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 03.47.29My first love from early childhood was music: classical piano-playing, and singing (especially folk), accompanying myself on my beloved guitar.

However, it was social anthropology that I took to doctoral level, and as a way of not letting go of music, I specialised in the anthropology of music.

During my doctoral fieldwork, I performed with an Ethiopian-Jewish band called “The Band of Blossoming Hope” for 9 months.  (See my book:  Gondar’s Child.)  I also had lessons with the famous Ethiopian Christian singer Aklilu Seyoum, who coached the Band, in the Ethiopian intervallic mood-mode systems known as “keñetoch”.

Prior to this, I conducted research on Jewish society and music in Yemen, and wrote a substantial thesis on this subject.  Very many hours were spent listening to, analysing, and even painstakingly and painfully transcribing their music, and other kinds of Yemenite music.

Perhaps it was Ethiopian music, and also the American blues singers who frequented the folk clubs in Israel, which opened me up to jazz. Upon returning from my fieldwork to the UK, for years to follow, jazz became my passion. I studied with established jazz vocalists, performing at jazz jams, working hard on my vocal improvisation and learning the standard repertoire. Among the early tasks I was set was to sing along with recordings of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing: a great training!  In my quest for jazz, I went to Manhattan where I attended lessons and vocal masterclasses, went to all the jazz jams and performances I could manage, and generally infused myself with jazz.

I am glad to say I finally returned to “my own” music and first love. I resumed my classical piano playing, and took it to another level – the most meaningful thing I feel I could have done with my life!

Years ago, I told a jazz musician about my background in music – all these diverse intensely-studied and deeply-internalised influences – and he said: “It will be dynamite when it all comes together!”.

Swing Abeba, a work for solo bassoon, is an example of some of these influences coming together.  Whether or not it is “dynamite” – even a small quantity of dynamite – even a teaspoonful, is for the listener, or player, to determine!

“Abeba”, means “flower” – part of the name of the Ethiopian capital city where modern Ethiopian music took root. “Abeba” is also a common refrain in their vocal music. True to its title, this work is influenced by Ethiopian popular music, which in turn was strongly influenced by swing rhythm in American big band jazz transmitted from an army radio station in Kagnew, in neighbouring Eritrea in the 1950s.

Ethiopian music – essentially song-based – consists of pentatonic melodies which tend to be deeply embedded in copious melismata, progressing in an improvisatory manner, similarly to jazz.

Accordingly, Swing Abeba begins with an Ethiopian, pentatonically melismatic treatment of an un-Ethiopian theme.  The music then breaks into a jazz-swing scherzo. The call-response nature of this scherzo recalls this feature of Ethiopian music. The second section begins with a slow, heavily melismatic ad lib passage marked “molto espressivo e pensivo”, which leads into a second swing scherzo, the opening themes reappearing in a different guise in the closing section.

In the recording here, it is played beautifully by John McDougall.  An earlier version of Swing Abeba was performed, equally beautifully, by Glyn Williams at the 17th New Winds Festival at Regent Hall in London, 2014.

 

 

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

Dancer-yellow

Artist-Yehuda Bacon-mixed media

Following on from my previous post:  “Bell, or Pas Belle”…..

A while back, I read an article about a composer who found some old cassettes of his which had decayed over time, and he wrote a composition using these decayed tapes. 

This caused me not a little concern.  I have boxes and boxes of cassettes with irreplaceable data and recordings.  So I am in the process of having my most precious recordings digitalized, although apparently my cassettes are, on the whole, in quite good nick – having been safely stored.

One of the recordings I’ve just had digitalized is of a song which I called Positive at the time, because it was about trying to think positively.  Here, I’ve decided, instead, to use the beginning of the song as a title.  It starts:

See it thus

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

I want none of that….none of that

This was when Susie Orbach’s book:  Fat is a Feminist Issue, had made a big impression on me.  The idea that the idealised thin (and devoid of body hair) aesthetic imposed on, and adopted by, women in the West, belongs to the concept of women as the child-like sex.

I was also influenced by an album by This Mortal Coil.  In one of the songs on this album, you cannot make out any of the words which the singer is singing – intentionally.  It is part of the style and atmosphere of the song.

This seemed like a great idea!  In this song that I had written, I felt quite exposed by the words after the initial lines.  So I decided to sing it disguising the words in a way that they were almost impossible to make out:  the voice would be more like an instrument providing melody, atmosphere and emotion, without fully-decipherable words.  After the opening lines, the words are not positive at all, but give expression to the way in which, in certain life (and death) situations, your pain can spill over, and other people’s pain can spill over onto you, in a way which can sap your confidence completely, and make it impossible to act on feelings of love, or of being in love.  I had recently passed through such a time, writing songs which gave vent to some intense emotions.  (“It’s slash your wrists time!” would be uttered –  it was later revealed to me – when I got up to sing in my local folk club!)

I met up with a guy who I have to credit with producing this recording:  Sal Paradise.  He got me to work properly on the guitar part until it was perfect before he agreed to record it.  He then doubled the guitar part with a delay inbetween the doublings, and added chorus, and a tabla sample on a loop.  (On his travels, he had recorded musicians, but I omitted to ask who the tabla player was behind this sample.)  He said he would make the vocal part “sweet”, but I think it is pretty much how I sounded back then, in the late 1980s. 

He then made us both a curry.

Unfortunately, he never let me have a decent copy of the recording.

So here it is:  Thin’s a child to the adult sex….