CAITLIN ROWLEY
composer

Stuck

Term has been underway for six weeks now and I am yet to really start my string quartet. Everything started so well! The research and drawing the plan went well, but when it’s come to finding actual notes to get moving on, I have to confess I am seriously stuck on this one.

The first attempt I made wasn’t quite right but I pushed ahead with it and there’s things I like about it and while most of it has been rejected (Stephen, my tutor quite rightly said that it wasn’t the piece I’d drawn) there are elements which I think I’ll be stealing back at some point.

Stephen set me homework to listen to Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the Ligeti quartets and Lutoslawski’s quartet, which has been interesting, and there’s stuff I might be able to use there, but not for the opening. I’m really not comfortable with the whole “any high note” thing. Or at least not in a small ensemble context – it can work really well in an orchestra where you’ve got a bunch of people doing the same thing, but at the chamber level, I really don’t want to relinquish that control. The effects and ideas I’m liking in these pieces are mostly really quiet things. Harmonics, ppp tremolando, sul tasto – stuff like that. The louder parts just feel random and unstructured and totally at odds with what I want to achieve.

The latest version – which I’ve just tonight rejected – I just plain don’t like. At first I thought it was because it didn’t feel like me. Now I think it’s because there’s nowhere for the materials to go. I don’t have a reason for using the chord I’ve started with and because it’s just a sound, it doesn’t have any line in it to be drawn out to become something larger, so I don’t know what to do with it and it’s not telling me anything. The material I started the first attempt with, on the other hand, while it didn’t entirely reflect what I’d drawn, I felt had the potential to be useful across the kind of scale this work is intended to have (15 minutes).

I’m also still suffering the major resistance to working away from the computer that I was trying to deal with during my early Creative Pact challenge this year. I’m really not comfortable with it. I guess it’s not helping that I’m finding it hard to find time to just sit and tinker with stuff – we seem to have a succession of workmen in. Or Djeli’s home and renovating, or everything’s such an appalling mess post-latest-renovation-whatevers that I just want to be out of the house (getting that a lot lately!).

So I’m not sure how to tackle this. Trying to do the opening just isn’t working. Maybe I need to do a Satie and start part-way through. The final section is one where I could use some of the effects from these pieces I’ve been listening to, so maybe I could start from there and then I’d find something I could repurpose for the beginning.

Maybe I also need to take a step back and look at the paintings again (well, the catalogue reproductions I have – the paintings themselves still seem to be hidden away after the attack), and do some more research and try to recapture what I was thinking at the time – it was a month ago now!

Plus, of course, there’s the question of whether it matters if I stray from the drawn plan. I personally don’t have a problem with this at all. It’s what usually happens! Drawing the plan just gives me a starting point for the structure but deviation is expected. My aim has never been to directly interpret visual art even in my art-inspired pieces, but rather to use it as a starting point. However, Stephen seems keen on the idea of a plan, and the challenge intrigues me – to not deviate from the plan simply because an idea came along that didn’t fit but instead persevere to find something that will fit the plan and enable me to follow it.

So the quartet’s in limbo for now. And the players I’ve been contacting to see if they want to actually play the thing either aren’t answering their phones or aren’t calling back, which is – to say the least – extremely frustrating!

Things are progressing much better with the piece for two harps I’m working on, but that’s a post for another day 🙂

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