Whitespace

A participatory movement/sound piece which relates a performance space to the space of the page, thereby exploring the space completely over the course of the performance. Sound is used to highlight aspects of the performance area. This is a work in progress.

More about this piece

dot drip line line 8317: Fall

This piece is a score which was created from the process outlined in dot drip line line. It was created for a performance at Bath Spa University with Open Scores Lab and explores ideas of gravity and the action of natural forces.

dot drip line line 8317: Fall is for four performers, one of whom (the ‘dripper’) will need to be equipped with an amplified jar of water and a small pipette.

While based on dot drip line line, this is a standalone piece and does not require performers to complete the notebook process in the original work.

More information about dot drip line line can be found here »

Manifesto

Manifesto was devised as an audiovisual piece developed using Max/MSP. It was the product of the very last weeks of my Master of Fine Arts research project, At the Borders of Music, Art and Text: Exploring an interdisciplinary approach to composition and incorporates several key concepts from that research:

  • The use of ‘amateur’ activity within my professional practice
  • The use of limitations
  • Embracing chance
  • Visual material as music

The ‘amateur’ activity includes using myself as the performer, using multiple layers of improvisation, working with video as well as audio, and – in particular – my decision to create this piece using Max/MSP, a programme with a famously steep learning curve, and to have the piece begun and completed in the last six weeks of my degree.

This last idea was a little too ambitious – tackling a project like this while finalising a major work for my portfolio (Crossing Dartmoor), writing a 10,000-word dissertation and doing all the bits and pieces that finishing up a major project entails. But the work has in the end been completed within about six weeks’ total work… spread over about 18 months.

The first three audio sections (Rhythm/Delays, Slurps/Granularisation, and Sung tones/Pitch processes) were completed and submitted with the project, with the fourth audio section (Sssssssshhhhhhh/Feedback) and the two video pieces (Paper River, and Dirty Lines) being created a few months later, within the framework of Creative Pact 2014.

Each piece worked with limited material created by me (one audio file of vocal/body-percussion improvisation, or one or two video files) and a limited range of processes. A time limit was set for creating each patch, which was then used to improvise up to 10 versions of the section, with the one that worked best being chosen for the final assemblage.

My original plan had been to create a Max patch which would pull all the sections together and assemble a final version on the fly according to a set of rules which would define parameters for the random selection of sections and their start/end points and durations. Quite a lot of work was achieved on this, and I am immensely grateful for the assistance of Max/MSP guru Justin Capps who helped me out when I got stuck. However, this just didn’t work out how I’d hoped it would, so ultimately I compiled a finished version using Logic and Final Cut Express, but using the initial rules and determining the timing of changeover point using random numbers generated in a spreadsheet. Start/end points were determined by visual adjustments in Logic, rather than by aural selection, with minor clean-up being applied to smooth transitions.

This work is a response to my 2014 Credo.

 

Negative Space

Negative Space is a short recorded piece which explores one possible interpretation of the idea of negative space (as found in drawing) in sound. Performed by the composer.

Available for download on the album 1200RPM:RPM2015.

Cake Piece

‘horrific’ ‘delicious’ (Responses to the premiere performance)

The first of a proposed series of experimental pieces involving cake. Cake Piece takes the simple act of cutting a cake into pieces and transforms it into something at first amusing, then dark and disturbing.

Cake Piece uses a text score and is suitable for performance by amateurs.

Photographs from the premiere performance by Caitlin Rowley (baking, voice) and Edward Henderson (knife) by Alex Waespi (click thumbnails for full image):

 

parksong series

The parksong series – an ongoing series of experimental vocal works – are musical compositions presented in the form of visual art prints. Drawing on verbal scores, visual representation and subtleties of language, they are visual art which is music; recordings which cannot be listened to; scores which do not explicitly invite performance.

Developed as part of her 2013-14 MFA research project ‘At the Borders of Music, Art and Text: Exploring an Interdisciplinary Approach to Composition’, the ongoing development of parksong explores Caitlin’s interests in music, visual art, text and the challenging of artistic fear through a lens of amateur practice and private musical experience.

The series currently comprises the four works, three of which were developed during the project:

  • parksong
  • the line of my voice
  • i sing myself a circle
  • private static

The graphic elements of each piece are drawn or created manually, then scanned into photoshop where they are combined with digital text before being professionally produced as giclée prints on heavy art paper. At present only a single Artist’s Proof exists of each piece, although there are plans to produce an edition at some point and possibly a zine variant of the series when complete. If you would like to know more about these works and the edition plans, or to request notification when editions are available to purchase, please contact Caitlin.

Crossing Dartmoor

A large-scale song cycle for tenor and piano, based on the Dartmoor textworks of British sculptor Richard Long, Crossing Dartmoor is a long-term project which will eventually consist of around 26 performable items. The singer chooses their own path through the material provided, with a minimum of five pieces constituting a ‘complete’ performance of the cycle. As such, Crossing Dartmoor is currently complete enough to provide several variants of such a performance, consisting as it presently does of around 40 minutes of audio material plus videos.

The cycle also exists as an arrangement for mezzo-soprano and guitar.

Full information and recordings of Crossing Dartmoor are available on the project’s dedicated website at crossingdartmoor.uk.

Preview the score of Crossing Dartmoor (click on the score to view full-screen):

Two Fish

Commissioned by Rebecca Cohen in 2014, Two Fish was written in response to a brief for an amusing song or group of songs with a total duration of approximately 4 minutes for soprano and piano. Having chosen texts from the 17th century fishing manual The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton, we worked to create two contrasting songs that reflect characteristics of the fish described. At some point during the composition process, I began to associate the fish in the texts with characters from Victorian melodrama. The music correspondingly took a melodramatic turn and both songs abound with frills and flourishes.

‘Adonis’, the first song of the pair, represents the heroine of Victorian melodrama. Beautiful and pure-hearted, this fish is the personification of innocence and love. While I was unable to precisely identify the fish described by Walton, I discovered that the herring is sometimes described as ‘The Darling of the Sea’. I learned that the herring, a fish which lives on plankton, is preyed on by a range of creatures. Specifically, I found photographs showing herring schools being attacked from above by gulls and from below by whales lunging from the depths. With the text being essentially description, with no innate drama, I used the idea of predators from below and above to build some drama into the piano part. As the piano part became more dramatic, the vocal line retreated into a simplicity informed by the idea of church chant.

‘Sargus’ represents the morally corrupt villain of Victorian melodrama. The text, the rather loose descendent of a French original based on an ancient description, describes an unnatural sexual liaison – between the Sargus fish and a goat. The mixture of description and purple-prose hyperbole in this text suggested the use of strong contrasts in this piece. The melodic material for the opening derived from a cipher on the fish’s name, while the central section was composed intuitively.

Preview the score of Two Fish (click on score to open full-screen):

Vignettes of Home

Written for a collaborative English Song project run by Jess Walker at Trinity Laban in February 2014, these four tiny songs were composed in a single night (18 February 2014) to texts contributed by four different singers on the project.

The texts describe what ‘home’ means to the writers and the songs each combine singing and speaking. The approach to both vocal lines and accompaniments is very free. Each song is about 30 seconds in duration, giving a total running time of about 2 minutes.

  • ‘After Rain’, for Melanie Harikrishna
  • ‘Returning Home’, for Amon-Ra Twilley
  • ‘Christmas’, for Deborah Miller
  • ‘Sycamore Trees’, for Lucy Miller-White

Drowning Songs

Written for the Trinity Laban chamber choir, Drowning Songs for unaccompanied SATB chamber choir was commissioned for a programme of nautical-themed works including Judith Bingham’s Salt in the Blood and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Full Fathom Five.

It is an evocation of the experience of drowning and a remembrance of those who have drowned. The text consists of a fragment of the psalm De Profundis, the names of some of the seamen listed as drowned in circumstances other than shipwreck in the British Merchant Navy records for the period between July 1881 and June 1882, and additional text devised by the composer.

The opening of the piece draws on a description of bodies sinking down through deep water, “falling like dolls”, given in the book All the Drowned Sailors by Raymond B. Lech. Depth and the action of the waves are recurring ideas throughout the piece, with the recurrence of the opening gesture and the susurration of whispered and spoken names of sailors rising and falling.

Preview the score of Drowning Songs (click on the score to open full-screen):

Sepiascape with Grey

Sepiascape with Grey is a graphic score commissioned by Valentina Pravodelov for her MMus vocal recital in January 2014. Destined to be performed in the context of a programme of darkly urban popular music by bands such as Massive Attack, Portishead and Joy Division with a backing band of guitars, keyboards, backing vocals and drums, it incorporates a short text which mashes up a single line from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland with words selected by the composer:

under the brown fog of a winter dawn
wasteland
never-never
unreal city

The score was created using sepia acrylic ink (using a dip pen with copperplate nib, and as a wash) and black watercolour overlaid with digitally created handwritten text.

It is dedicated to Valentina Pravodelov.

Parlour Game

Parlour Game is a conceptual, improvisatory Christmas piece for three or more singing performers (either acting singers or singing actors) with a sense of adventure and a taste for silliness. It is based on the children’s game Chinese Whispers, in which text is whispered from player to player, becoming corrupted and less and less intelligible as it moves through the group.

The ‘score’ of Parlour Game consists of a page of instructions and 8 slips of paper which contain four graphic suggestions for melodies and four suggestions of ways of speaking. This is the foundation of the piece. The first performance was augmented by readings from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the provision of ‘rumours’ to the audience in handmade paper fortune cookies (made with Christmas origami paper!). The rumours were all lines taken from A Christmas Carol, but could be anything that fits the occasion, and of course, audience members can always make up their own rumours.

The piece can run for any duration, although less than about 7 minutes would probably not be effective. The first performance ran for 12 minutes.

Parlour Game: First performance

Parlour Game: First performance

Parlour Game: First performance

Breadcrumbs

a ‘striking dramatic take on the familiar tale’ (review by Robert Hugill)


Breadcrumbs performed by Charlotte Richardson (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais), directed by Omar Shahryar, at Kings Place for Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, 9 August 2014.
Breadcrumbs is a dramatic monologue for unaccompanied soprano, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

It was composed for soprano Julia Weatherley’s Master of Music recital in 2013 and was designed to explore ideas and material to be developed into a chamber opera in 2014.

The text is by the composer and incorporates material from Eastern European fairy tales, Dante’s Inferno and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The singer plays the role of 15-year-old Gretel, alone in the woods. The back-story to the piece is that after their father abandoned Hansel and Gretel (rather than kill them as his wife had ordered him to), Hansel (aged about 12 or 13) went to try to find the breadcrumb trail and got lost. She is angry with him and feels responsible for her little brother. After an optional cor anglais introduction, Breadcrumbs begins with Gretel’s scathing indictment of Hansel’s idea of tracking the path back to their home with breadcrumbs. With nightfall, she expresses her fear of being alone in the dark and with nothing else to do, she relates her whimsical mental wanderings around the image of “a darkness a spoon could stand up in”. Finally, she sees a light through the trees, smells gingerbread and hears her brother – can they have found the safe haven she craves?

An early version of Breadcrumbs was workshopped by Jane Manning at Tete a Tete opera festival in Hammersmith in August 2013, and the completed work was first performed by Julia Weatherley (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais) in September 2013 [view video]. In August 2014, Breadcrumbs was featured as a free fringe event in the 2014 Tête à Tête opera festival at Kings Place, performed by Charlotte Richardson (soprano) and Clemmie Curd (cor anglais) and directed by Omar Shahryar, and also performed at the Barbican [view: rehearsal video teaser, production photos].

Still River Air

‘absolutely beautiful, brilliantly executed’ (Adjudicator’s report)

A finalist in the 2013 Runswick Prize at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Still River Air is based on seven photographs by iconic American photographer Ansel Adams, from the exhibition From the Mountains to the Sea at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

The work is in three sections. The first describes two images of still water, the second a group of river-rapid images and the third represents photographs of waterfall spray. Still River Air is scored for the unusual ensemble prescribed by the terms of the competition and has a duration of just under 10 minutes.

Praise for Still River Air

From the adjudicator’s report:

‘I was drawn to distinctly different photographs during different sections of the piece which was a remarkable experience.’

‘the tone of the music felt incredibly well judged alongside the images of the exhibition.’

‘absolutely beautiful, brilliantly executed’

To Fortune

Written for American composer and singer Charles Turner for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. Nancy Rexford plays the piano on this recording.

Charles suggested the text for this short song, Robert Herrick’s To Fortune:

Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, smiling yet ;
Tear me to tatters, yet I’ll be
Patient in my necessity.
Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun
Me, as a fear’d infection ;
Yet, scare-crow-like, I’ll walk as one
Neglecting thy derision.

Three Whitman Songs

Three Whitman Songs is, oddly enough, a set of three songs to texts by Walt Whitman for contralto and piano. The first and last songs of the set – ‘Hast never come to thee an hour’ and ‘This is thy hour’ – are for both performers, while the second song, ‘Come forward, o my soul’ is for unaccompanied voice and is followed by a brief interlude for solo piano.

The vocal range this work is intended for is perhaps a little lower than average – between them the songs cover a compass from E-flat at the top of the treble stave, down to F below middle C. While this is an unusual range, it happens to be that of the composer (for once I wanted to write something I could sing without transposing it down a fourth!)

The texts are as follows:

Hast never come to thee an hour

Edited from Hast never come to thee an hour

Hast never come to thee an hour,
A sudden gleam, divine, precipitating,
bursting all these bubbles, fashions, wealth.
Those eager business aims, books, politics, art, amours,
To utter nothingness.

Come forward, O my soul

Extracted from Proud Music of the Storm

Come forward, O my soul, and let the rest retire,
Listen, lost not, it is toward thee they tend,
Parting the midnight, entering my slumber chamber,
For thee they sing and dance O soul.

This is thy hour

Edited from A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour, o soul, [thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,]
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars

Red Drops, Scarlet Heat

Red drops, scarlet heat started out as a piece I was writing for the Percy Grainger Museum’s annual composition competition*. The terms of the 2002 competition stated that entries should use material from one of a number of set pieces composed by Grainger. One of these works was Grainger’s The Immovable Do which is based entirely around a drone on C.

I wanted to see how I could most expressively use a drone in a vocal/choral work. Taking Walt Whitman’s beautiful but rather chilling ‘Trickle drops’ (from Leaves of Grass) as my text, I worked to create a dramatic piece from fairly limited musical resources. I experimented a little with the addition of an optional glockenspiel part during rehearsals, but ultimately removed this from the work. The overall effect of the work is quite dark, but passionate.

The individual vocal parts should not be difficult for any moderately experienced singer, but the work does require a very stable sense of pitch – not only to maintain the drone, but to correctly place dissonances and leaps.

*It never made it to the competition as the final version did not meet the minimum duration imposed by the competition rules.

Remembrances of Half-Forgotten Dead People

These three songs for high voice & piano take their texts from the 1911 edition of the Petit Larousse Illustré. These have been set as they appear in the dictionary (with certain minor changes to preserve clarity of meaning), and were chosen for the different ways in which time has treated the subjects of the entries:

I. Lament: Louis-César-Joseph Ducornet (1806-1856). French painter. ‘Born without arms, he painted with his feet’. Ducornet has by now been apparently totally forgotten, to the extent that his name does not even appear in modern 20-volume encyclopaediae.

II. Funeral march: Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896). French composer. He was chosen because while he was extremely popular during his lifetime, his works did not seem to be performed often even though his name was known. This was from my perspective (1990s Australia!) when the work was written – it seems that in Europe his music is still performed.

III. Elegy: Marie de Flavigny, Comtesse d’Agoult (1805-1976). French writer. Quite well known during her lifetime, she wrote under the nom de plume Daniel Stern. She is best known now as Liszt’s mistress.

The performance here is by soprano Angela Hicks, who sang Remembrances of Half-Forgotten Dead People in the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich on 23 January 2014.

Chanson

Erik Satie’s ‘Chanson’ is the first of his Trois autres mélodies, written in 1887. This arrangement, for voice, vibraphone and tape by Caitlin Rowley was commissioned by American composer Adam Di Angelo and completed in 2009. The tape part uses recordings from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara (with permission) as well as environmental sounds recorded in Ealing (London) and Brussels by the composer.

Not wanting to greatly change the beauty of Satie’s original music, the aim was for the tape part to underscore the feelings of fleeting pleasures, and the melancholy aspect of J.P. Contamine de Latour’s text, while the vibraphone and voice present the melody and accompaniment almost unaltered from the original.

The score comes with a CD of two versions of the tape part: one with and one without the vibraphone part, enabling either easy solo practice for the singer, or performance when a vibraphone may be difficult to come by.

On Harrowdown Hill

On Harrowdown Hill was composed in about 5 weeks for English National Opera’s Mini Operas competition in 2012. It sets a libretto by Shaun Gardiner, written to a brief story by Will Self, both created especially for the competition.

**Now available to download from Bandcamp! You can pay what you want for it (or nab it for free) – all money raised will go towards my continuing composition education. Click to get your copy now!**

I was drawn to Gardiner’s rather Beckettesque libretto because I felt it conveyed the sorrow and bleakness of the central character of the Inspector, a good man who is thrown to the wolves by the government and the press. The original synopsis was based upon the true story of David Kelly, the UN Weapons Inspector who reportedly committed suicide in 2003, and Gardiner’s script hinted at the dark future of the Inspector in a way which I found intriguing.

Written for bass-baritone (The Inspector), counter-tenor/alto (The Advisor), tenor (The Journalist), chorus of Journalists, electric violin, flute, piano, strings and percussion, the opera was recorded in July 2012 from various parts of the Northern hemisphere by:

  • Charles Turner – The Inspector (USA)
  • Andrew Pickett – The Advisor (Canada)
  • Nick Allen – The Journalist (UK)
  • Chrissie Caulfield – electric violin (UK)
  • Caitlin Rowley – flute (UK)
  • Other parts were produced using Garritan Personal Orchestra virtual instruments

Read about the composition of On Harrowdown Hill in the journal