Work in progress: Carrion Comfort 3

In which everything goes horribly wrong

What do you do when a piece starts to go off the rails? And how do you fix it? I have never worked by mapping out a composition as it starts – all of my pieces have simply grown organically out of their original material. While I’m pretty comfortable, in general, with this way of working and it gives plenty of scope for unexpected changes that just happen, it can also lead to a good deal of meandering and confusion. When this happens, it’s time to step back, reassess and sometimes take drastic action.

First up, version 16 of the piece, in which we demonstrate a whole host of problems. I’ve set the annotations as Closed Captions so you can watch it through without commentary to start with, if you like. To view them, click the CC button in the player.

So as you can see, I have a number of problems here, mostly to do with meandering, not building up enough tension or momentum, and for the final section, a decorative chunk that doesn’t really connect with the heart of the work I’m trying to write.

I’m not going to inflict all of the next nine iterations of the piece on you while I staggered around looking for a solution, but here are a few of the things I tried:

  • v17: Extended out the end part, added the flute in with drawn-out notes to see if I could get some movement going with interplay with the piano while tying the new section back into what had gone before.
  • v18: Tried to make the flute part a bit more complex to mesh better with the bouncy strings in the end part as the slow-moving part idea wasn’t working.
  • v19: Added an oboe and horn (I was getting kind of manic about how not to delete all the new stuff by this point)
  • v20: Threw some pizz triplets into the string pattern, which really improved it no end, but still wasn’t the answer.
  • v22: Added a viola line at the very beginning, to tie the two opening statements in cello/double bass and bassoon together so it has less of a stop-start feel, deleted the whole of the bouncy new section. However, I ended up quite liking the triplet version, so I filed that one away for possible use in a future piece – no point wasting it!
  • v23: Time for some serious surgery: Hacked out and condensed the central section, inserting two 3/4 bars to push the pace along a bit. By this point I had effectively chopped the piece in half but hadn’t quite committed to it as I’d just moved the end part along, not deleted it entirely
  • v25: Commitment time: I deleted the end sections I wasn’t using and ended up with a totally new section of held chords.

At this point I realised that I had either created an insanely short and unsatisfying piece, or something had gone dramatically wrong. I plumped for the latter after a brief dalliance with the idea of starting a second piece to pair with the first and decided that the thing to do was to go back to the poem to find my way back to what I originally wanted to capture.

Want to find out what I did and how the piece ended up after this slash-and-burn episode? Subscribe to find out as soon as it’s online!

Going to be in London on Friday 7 October? Come to a free lunchtime concert and hear the world premiere of the piano version of Pieces of Eight!

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