Work in progress: Carrion Comfort 4

Going back to the source & ending up in unexpected places

When we left Carrion Comfort last time, it had been through the wringer a bit. All the chopping and changing I did improved it, but it was left a little directionless and I felt the new end section (which sounds a bit like an actual ending) was a bit of a let-down. So I decided that the only thing to do was to go back to the beginning – right back to the poem that started it all and have a good think about what I was really trying to achieve here.

For the record, and to compare with the last version, this is version 25 of the piece (as with previous versions, it’s best viewed full screen and using the HD setting rather than the 320 which I think is standard):

So I pulled out the poem, read it through several times, then went hunting for readings on YouTube to see how my interpretation of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ famous sprung rhythm matched up with what other people thought. Well, it may be arrogant to say so, but I think most of the readings on YouTube are dead wrong. There’s no passion in them, no real motion. My personal opinion of Hopkins’ poetry is that he contrasts motion with stillness and all through it there should be an ebb and flow of feeling and rhythms. Anyway, that’s my take. So most of them were incredibly tedious. Until I stumbled onto this gem by a blindingly Aussie gentleman who apparently has taken to shouting Hopkins as a form of stress relief. This one, I feel, is a version worth listening to (although if you’re reading this at work, you might want to put headphones on rather than startle your co-workers…)

I just love it.

After a good deal of time communing with the poem and listening to various interpretations, I felt I needed to do something a bit more practical. Often when I work I like to draw or do collages that pull together the sorts of colours, textures and formal rhythm that I’m looking for in the work I want to write. I had just treated myself to a set of gouache paints (opaque watercolour, for those who haven’t encountered them before – a marvellous medium – you get all the blendy, washy properties of normal watercolour, but these amazingly vibrant colours) so I thought I might try to create a sort of painted map of the poem. I think of it as an ‘intensity map’ rather than interpreting mood, speed or whatnot. It’s more about identifying the highs and lows of passion in the poem. Once I’d painted it, I really wanted to work physically with the text itself too, so I pulled a photo of the map into SketchbookPro on my iPad and really went to town, writing out the words and trying to make my written text also match up the intensities I’d mapped. The result was this (click on the image to view the full-size version):

Carrion Comfort intensity map

This is turning out to be rather a long post, so I’ll look at what I did with this map and the further progress of the piece next time. However, just in the last couple of days, this map I made of the poem has taken on a life of its own. In the course of a discussion on Twitter sparked by my last WIP post, I sent the original (no text) version of the intensity map image to Stuart Russell – he then used that map as a graphic score to create his own electroacoustic work, C. C. – After Caitlin Rowley.

I find it quite fascinating that the same material can spark such different results. Stuart has suggested that this map might be capable of having an independent existence as a graphic score and I confess I’m really interested in that as an idea: that something that was created merely as a tool for the creation of one piece can then take on an independent life of its own, so that in the course of creating a single work, I could end up having actually created two scores, and the possibility of many different versions.

What do you think? Does this idea appeal? Have you ever done anything similar? Share your opinions and stories in the comments!

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