A performance inside a notebook, fragments of score, the sounds of the rehearsal studio, coffee on loop. Welcome to HAYDN SPACE OPERA, a piece which uses composition and performance creation as its materials. Taking place in browser-based online virtual reality, your exploration of the spaces of the piece creates your own unique mix of sounds including scraps of conversation, experiments and performances by Bastard Assignments. What will you find inside the composer’s notebook?
Premiered 10-23 May 2021 for Bath Spa University’s SparkFest digital festival. Part of Electric Medway’s Showcase programme, 21-30 August 2021.
As Mozilla Hubs, the platform HAYDN SPACE OPERA is built on is perpetually changing and improving, every now and then things break or go awry in unexpected ways. I try to keep an eye on it, but if you’re in there and find something wrong, please do let me know so I can fix it up. You can compare with the walkthrough videos if you’re not sure something’s intentional.
For information about the development of the piece, visit my notebook – these updates here are just announcements of notable fixes and changes.
22 May 2022: Reinstated background sound in the Warmup Room, which was lost due to an apparent change in availability of files hosted on Dropbox. I’ve moved this to the CDN so it shouldn’t vanish again. The audio object for this sound was visible in Hubs in spite of being set to “not visible”. Reported this bug and implemented a hack to obscure it in the meantime. Similar changes made to Phyllida Barlow Playground and The Apocalypse, along with some adjustments made to volume of background sounds which seem to have altered to be much, much quieter than when first set up. Similarly adjusted sound levels in The Café.
The first piece of A Memory of Wind came out of the Porthleven Prize residency I attended in March 2020. Striations in the rocks seen at the Cornish beaches we visited matched up in my mind with the patterns formed by the lines on maritime charts, where numbers indicated the depth of each band on the chart. Combining the two created a collaged score where the approach to the sound is shaped by the idea of wind, water, depth and time.
Off the coast at Porthleven, under the sea, is an area of petrified forest and the combination of rocks and depth prompted thoughts about that forest, how if it could think it might remember what wind felt like, but that being at the bottom of the sea now, the wind’s often violent effect on the waves is diminished the further down you go.
The numbers in the score range from small at the top of the page to largest at the bottom of the page. They form a rough map of deepening pitch in the piece. The performer starts with the top segment (surface, performed on the A string), improvising their way through the numbers using a wind-like tonal palette created by the use of left-hand fingers only half-touching the string in combination with flautando bowing that may move around between the bridge and the fingerboard. Movement in this surface segment can vary in activity level and is the most active area of the score – as the piece progresses through ‘deeper’ segments the activity levels reduce. The ‘surface’ is returned to between each segment of the piece, and the piece ends on the C string in the deepest segment.
As this piece does not demand exact pitches or extreme control of the bow (random harmonics and unstable tonal effects are encouraged), it is suitable for performance by any violist who has mastered the production of harmonics.
Tuning is left to the performer’s preference. The composer generally performs this piece with the viola strings tuned to F / E / A / G (this is the same tuning as for Quiet Songs).
A second movement of A Memory of Wind, for solo voice, is currently in development.
Quiet Songs was written for Bastard Assignments’ performance at Aldeburgh Festival in 2019. Written for the composer to perform, it sets live detuned viola against a constructed video part of silenced and manipulated vocal and viola performances by the composer. Starting with a simple mirrored relationship between the two (the viola provides the sound for the silent vocal performance onscreen), they quickly take different but related paths, coinciding here and there throughout the piece.
The viola uses very few traditional playing techniques. Using scordatura (the strings are retuned to F-E-A-G), a wide range of playing positions (near, on and behind the bridge all the way to the fine-tuners and over the fingerboard all the way to the scroll); creating white noise by bowing the body of the instrument in various places), and noise effects.
The audio in the video part uses recordings made in the composer’s studio – most notably via a contact microphone positioned on the window, simultaneously capturing the sound of the performance in the studio and the sounds of the street outside.
A hybrid piece about the technological ways we capture memories and how captured memories relate to recollection. This piece uses field recordings collected by the composer across a 12-year period, narration and the sounds of live photography.
Aides memoire is the title of the performed piece, with POV being the title of a byproduct piece created from the photos taken in the performance. POV takes the form of a video comprising the still photographs from multiple cameras from a single performance, giving a different view of that performance from documentations captured of the performance itself:
Paper for cello and video works with sounds suggested by interactions with paper – drawing, erasing, cutting, crumpling, and allowing paper to uncrumple itself – sometimes imitating the sound that would be made, sometimes translating those sounds into more ‘musical’ versions. The piece uses a video score, which is also projected for the audience to see. However, the audience also sees additional material after the cellist has finished playing, allowing for a closer observation of the visuals without the distraction of sound and for the possibility of the audience being able to recreate the sounds associated with the imagery in their imaginations.
The visuals show the composer interacting with paper and follow an increasingly detailed trajectory – from wide-angle shots showing the composer’s workspace down to very close-up footage revealing the texture of the paper used and playing with focus.
There are clear correlations of sound to visuals throughout the piece with sonic/technique relationships sometimes tying together visually disparate imagery.
Paper makes much use of extended techniques and while simple in form poses challenges for the performer of timing and theatrical awareness to pull together the performance and the video so that the cellist onstage is a critical visual element in the piece.
Text score for a performed piece of any duration for any number of performers.
This piece is currently in development. At present, the intention is:
The score for this piece contains a simple text which each performer should use to create an entire notebook of variants which will serve as a handbook of ideas from which to develop a live performance version of the initial score. The notebooks should be displayed (open at a single spread) where the audience can see them at the performance. The variants may be drawn (using wet and/or dry media), collaged, described, included as video or audio of a performance interpretation (performers may want to consider the use of QR codes to include these digitally recorded versions in their books), or any other form or media that comes to mind.
The final performance may take any form the performer chooses. Performances that are created as scores become separate but related works, which can be performed in future by performers who have not undertaken the notebook process.
Current scores developed from dot drip line line are:
Fortune Favours the Brave was written for flautist Jenni Hogan in 2016. The score of the piece is in the form of a Chinese-style handscroll, crafted by the composer out of 4.7 metres of shot silk and 4.5 metres of rice paper pages which contain the handwritten music and notes.
An exploration into ideas about how we choose to accept or reject challenges, Fortune Favours the Brave takes the form of a ritualistic game. After each movement, the flautist lays down her instrument and tosses a coin to determine whether she should play or skip the next section. She then decides whether to accept or reject the coin’s declaration and performs a gesture of acceptance or rejection accordingly. Having done this, she moves the scroll on to the piece she has decided to play (which will be the next section or the one following it) and performs it.
The music contains a range of extended techniques, including multiphonics, deliberate audible breathing, key clicks, tongue rams and various windy tones.
A radio edit version of Fortune Favours the Brave was performed by Jenni Hogan on BBC Radio 3 Hear and Now as part of Bastard Assignments’ live set performed at Southbank Centre. This broadcast also includes a brief interview with the composer. Hear it on iPlayer until 24 October »
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.’
I started to compose Knots & Mirrors in 2011 for a call for scores for fanfares for Firstsite in Colchester. Due to an injury I was unable to complete the piece in time for the Firstsite event, but it draws on elements relating to this venue, most notably the community artwork The Knot Curtain which was on display at that time.
The Knot Curtain drew upon Chinese decorative knots and consisted of picture frames, connected by representations of different types of decorative knots. In the images I had of the artwork, the picture frames looked like mirrors, and the fanfare itself uses a fair amount of material reflected in different parts, giving a slightly different aspect to the same notes.
The piece is also about individuals and groups. The first and final sections focus on the ensemble working together, while the central section separates out the parts to give more of a solitary, individual-within-the-group impression.
Written for Jennifer Mackerras for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. Triptych for One explores a number of extended techniques for recorders, including multiphonics, flutter-tonguing, singing while playing and finger vibrato. It draws its inspiration from a triptych of paintings by Joan Miro, as seen here.
Written for Sam Grinsell for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. I wanted to create something that had ties with Sam’s own work (which often consists of improvisations over field recordings) but which at the same time would subvert that. Sam’s music is very beautiful and often very peaceful, so I created a tape part which was aggressive and harsh and made a graphic score to guide Sam loosely through it.
The title is a reference to a story the great Flash designer Josh Davis told at a design conference I went to many years ago in Sydney. He showed us a beautiful, delicate animation in silence and told us how he took it to his sound designer, showed it to him and then, by way of explaining what he wanted said “I want it to kill people”. I loved the idea that something so gentle and beautiful could be so violent and it really summed up what I wanted to do with this piece.
(en)twine was a real learning experience for me. My first work for solo harp – and the first where I really had to think about how a harp actually works (my student work The String Thing included a harp but its part consisted entirely of arpeggiated accompaniment figures). My immense gratitude goes to American harpist Kimberly Howser who patiently answered all my harp questions and checked over the score for playability considerations.
(en)twine‘s salient feature is the series of sudden switches between themes and figures, which intertwine and corrupt one another. In performance, these must each be clearly characterised, making them distinct from one another, while maintaining the structural coherence of the work. The principal themes are a fanfare-like figure (played non-arpeggiato), two related syncopated themes, and arpeggiated passages played close to the soundboard to create a guitar-like sound.
Structurally, this work is similar to Shimmer (which draws its structure from Stravinsky’s broken-lines model in the Symphonies of Wind Instruments) but with fragmentation of the themes – not just juxtaposition – a central factor.
twelve is an arrangement for double string quartet of one of my first film scores, for a live animation created by animator Leo Martyn.
The film was a comic look at routine and how people fall into daily patterns that are hard to break. I wanted the music to be cyclical to reflect these patterns, so the work is structured around a sequence of bars: 1 – 1,2 – 1,2,3 – 1,2,3,4 etc. up to 12.
twelve was chosen for a CD project of works for string ensembles by young composers, but unfortunately the project could not obtain funding and so was never completed.
Pieces of Eight was written in response to a ‘call for scores’ from French chamber group Ensemble Décadanse who were embarking on a project entitled 2000 miniatures for the year 2000. They were asking for groups of pieces, each item of which was no longer than 10 seconds in duration.
Taking up the challenge, I viewed each piece as a window onto another – hypothetical – larger piece.
Pieces of Eight exists in several versions by the composer:
flute/violin, B-flat clarinet, cello/double bass & piano – the original version written for Ensemble Décadanse
soprano saxophone, violin, viola, double bass & piano for Australian group Topology who performed this version at the MiniMax Festival in Brisbane in 20o2
solo piano, premiered by Luca Tieppo at a London Composers Forum concert in 2011
Additionally, Pieces of Eight was arranged by composer and oboist Catherine Pluygers for the ensemble of the London New Wind Festival who performed it in London in 2009.
The recording here is of the first performance of the piano version, by Italian pianist and composer Luca Tieppo at the London Composers Forum‘s lunchtime concert at St Mary’s, Putney in London, 7 October 2011
Shimmer was composed in 1998 for Newcastle (NSW) pianist Rob Kelly. While it may sound at times a little like Debussy, its roots are strongly in the music of Stravinsky – especially structurally.
The structure of the work was created along the lines of Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which consists of fragments of themes juxtaposed against each other, chopping and changing, but gradually building a series of thematic lines through the piece.
Shimmer has two principal ‘lines’, one free and quasi-improvisatory; the other more rhythmic and structured.
The performance here, by Jeanell Carrigan, is from the Vox Australis CD Hammered (Australian Post-1970 Piano Music, Vol. 3) VAST027-2, released 2000 and available to buy from the Australian Music Centre.
Shimmer also exists in an alternate version for piano and percussion.
Thickets was written specifically for the CoMA Midwinter Composers Masterclass in Durham in 2011. It is scored for 2 violins, viola and 2 celli (or cello and double bass) and written specifically to be suitable for amateur players of grade 4-5 and upwards.
While the technical requirements are not great, the work draws its effectiveness from a lyrical sharing of themes in the slow opening section and from characteristic sections of hocketing between parts in the main body of the work. There are rhythmic challenges in particular, but nothing insurmountable for players of this level.
Thickets was workshopped and performed at the CoMA Midwinter Late Starter Strings School in Durham in 2011, where the conductor – cellist Robin Michael – described it as “a fantastic piece” and “unbelievably well-written for strings”. Several of the performers involved (two to a part for the workshop) expressed their enjoyment of the piece to the composer afterwards.
There are a few posts in the journal about the composing process for Thickets:
Diabolus is a one-minute long piece for unaccompanied violin, written for Conway Kuo’s 15 Minutes of Fame concert in 2011.
It explores the concept of a single piece of music emerging from three simple lines, one of which is an ostinato based on the interval of the tritone, the diabolus in musica, hence the title. I wrote it as a sort of an exercise in composing for a single-line instrument – I’ve had an idea for a piece for unaccompanied cello floating about for some time now, but wasn’t sure how to start, so the three-lines-into-one concept I’ve explored in Diabolus was one way to approach that problem.