The title of this work is taken from the poem Around the Far Edge of Circling by Ed Roberson. His text deals with questions of mortality by making analogies between land and sea and the boundless edge of human existence.
It was first performed at their annual Festival of Remembrance which incorporated all ages and faiths, signifying the importance of peace against conflict and demonstrates how current conflict and war casts a dark shadow on a striving for world peace. The festival also aims to commemorate all those that have lost their lives during conflict past and present.
The Horizon Written was commissioned by Elliot Walker and St. Pauls Church in Rotherham, UK.
Scorched Songs was inspired by the work of Cai Guo Qiang (http://caiguoqiang.com/), a Chinese artist who primarily uses gunpowder as his tool for creation. His craft involves various lines of colour being carefully added and distributed onto large sheets of Japanese hemp paper, creating the whole image he has in mind. The works are prepared over a period of months but are fixed within just a few short seconds after a fuse is lit and the canvas ignites.
Similarly, the source material for each movement is ‘scorched’ through processes and fused as a new musical object in time. The individual titles are taken from popular songs by bands which had an important influence on me as a bass guitarist such as Cream, Freelance Whales, Metallica and Milburn. The movements are given below.
I – Lights close their tired eyes
II – Vaguely attracted to rooftops
III – Off to Neverland
IV – Pass me a book and I’ll read you a sonnet
The piece uses a number of techniques to transform these source materials in an ‘incendiary’ manner. These include modifying the attack on the instrument giving pitches a more aggressive timbre, by using phonemes like ‘k’ or ‘t’. Sometimes the flow of air through the instrument is altered to produce a distorted sound or to create multiphonics which are very resonant and unstable. All the information for the multiphonics used in the work were taken from Spectral Immersions: A Comprehensive Guide to the Theory and Practice of Bass Clarinet Multiphonics by Sarah Watts.
There are also lyrics written above the stave, which the performer is required to speak into the instrument whilst fingering the pitches as they would normally on the instrument which creates an echo effect of speech
Below is a link to a recording made by the fantastic Sarah Watts, who I am incredibly grateful to for the time she took to work on this piece with me at the RNCM.
Jenny Whittaker and I performed this piece back in April as part of a charity concert, in which we raised £700 for Cancer Research UK and the Stroke Association. The recording includes the premiere performance audio, with overdubbed string parts recorded by musicians from the RNCM. Keep an eye out for news of an on location performance of this piece which will be live streamed at some point during October!
More about the piece here:
After the premiere at the Victoria Hall in Sheffield, I was lucky enough to be able to conduct my work Night Sky Partials on a tour in Tuscany with three choirs from the local area, in three astounding church venues.
The SATB acapella choir for my piece was made up of close friends and family, which made the experience even more wonderful.
Below, there are links to both the recording and a previous blog with more information about the piece.
Sopranos – Emily Atkinson & Hilary Osborn
Altos – Anna Day & Emily Needle
Tenors – Harry Chapman and John Grundy
Basses – Daniel Timmins, John Anstie and William Day
Photo: Victoria Hall, Sheffield – 27/05/17
Photo: Bassilica Santa Maria Assunta, Montecatini – 30/05/17)
Photo: Convento di sant’ Agnostino, San Giminiano – 31/05/17)
Photo: Parrocchia del Ss. Stefano e Niccolao, Pescia – 01/06/17)
I’m very happy that two of my pieces will be included in tomorrow nights programme a part of the Kinetic concert series. You can read more about the concert here:
https://www.anthonyburgess.org/event/concert-kinetic/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1760274300952984/
Daniel Portal will be playing the fourth movement from my piano cycle, Five Pieces/Colour in Water. The colour in the title refers to melodies and their subtle ornamental variations which form the basis of the musical narrative, they appear at first like drops of dye in water which gradually dilute to become part of a whole. Pitch cycles swirl and dance around parallel to this process, creating a paradoxical moveable stillness. The combination of these two layers of material in motion over time creates the effect of a kaleidoscopic contrast in colour, combined with time which is stretched and irregular.
After that, Charlotte Badham and James Girling will be giving another performance of my piece …and wisdom comes quietly which you can read about here:
Ahead of tomorrow’s concert, I’m excited to announce a new piece of my own which will be featured as part of the programme. It will be performed by Jenny Whittaker (soprano) and myself.
Autumnal began simply as an attempt to compose a work inspired by my love of the landscape surrounding my home in the Autumn time. I asked my friend John Anstie to write three short haikus which would describe an Autumnal scene. He responded with these wonderful lines:
Rainbow hues turning
chill air low sun (but) warm hearts
beauteous day-long dawn
pink light (on) timeless trees
yield a golden fleece and warmth
(for) aching Mother Earth
sleeping beauties wake
from enduring frozen night
in Spring refreshing
I began working on the piece by setting this short text to music, testing out melodies on the violin. The vocal line centres around the Dorian of Ab, which to me (in an old romantic and quasi-synesthetic way) suggests the dark yellow colours which leaves become in the Autumn. ‘Folk-like and with little vibrato’ is the instruction for the vocalist regarding the expression of the lines, which Jenny achieves beautifully. Beneath the vocal line there are electronic samples of leaves and piano chords suspended in time which provide a kind of aural canvas for the vocal line to make its mark.
Autumnal was written especially for tomorrow’s concert, in memory of John Hirst. Find out more here – https://josephshawsite.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/the-music-of-john-david-hirst-24-11-41-21-06-11/
A very rough sketch of my new piece for Meera Maharaj and James Girling, playing alto flute and prepared classical guitar. It will be the first piece in my new cycle Incendiary Colour, for various chamber ensembles and an added installation element also.
Each colour and shape represents a different set of ideas/materials which have yet to be pieced together into a functional work. Until then, at least the colours are pretty!
I’m very excited to announce that my piece Night Sky Partials for SATB acapella chorus will receive two performances this Summer. The first will be at Victoria Hall in Sheffield in a concert which I’ll be able to say more about in a future blog post. The second will be in Tuscany, sung by members of the Fox Valley Voices for whom the piece was written and directed by myself.
The original version of this piece was for female voices (SSAA), and was written for my partner Emily Needle as a Birthday gift. Over Christmas I had the opportunity to revise it for SATB acapella chorus and expand on ideas in the first version.
I’ve included the programme note and text below:
This piece takes its name from the title track of an album by Freelance Whales, an American indie rock band whose lyrics (similarly to the text of this piece) explore dreamlike explorations of nature and the universe.
Text (extracts from Constellations by Ian Pindar, Nocturnes by Will Kemp and Wild by Ben Okri):
A summers day of images,
a field of fire.
The blue, beautiful morning.
The morning so clear.
The world is rich, with great love un-found,
set it free.
River, flow to the sea.
(Working with the Angeli Che Cantano on the original version of the piece in 2013)
I was very excited and proud to be involved in a concert back at the beginning of October with local volunteers, in celebration of a very beautiful landscape and its design.
I was commissioned by the Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust’s community’s officer Peter Clegg, to produce my piece Wentworth Cantata. The commission was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the CB300 festival. It was premiered at Wentworth Castle on the 16th October as part of the Voices of the Landscape project in collaboration with the Barnsley writers and the Penistone Poets.
The concert itself featured a storyboard of wonderful poetry and narrations, punctuated by extracts of my score for bass guitar and bass voice.
My ideas for Wentworth Cantata began as visual sketches rather than musical notation. An interest in the Capability Brown inspired modelling of the landscape and the architecture of the building itself led me to an alternate way of displaying material for the performers.
The score consists of lines and shapes traced directly from large scale maps of the area surrounding Wentworth Castle. The performer is free to create their own journey through the hypothetical landscape using the 14 ‘micro’ pieces which can be manipulated in various ways and played in any order.
Just as the architecture of the building is made up of multiple wings which were built at different times over recent centuries, several of the sections are taken from musical works of the past which correspond to the dates of the buildings. The voice part consists of both spoken and sung material in ballad form which gives a narrative consistency to the work. I commissioned the text from John Anstie (https://poetjanstie.wordpress.com/) who was also the vocalist for this project.
You can see the individual fragments from the various compositions labelled adjacent to each module on the score, as well as an example of how the landscape is abstractly translated onto the page.
Future extensions of Voices of the Landscape will hopefully include more performances at Wentworth Castle itself (perhaps in the gardens… weather permitting!) a published book containing poems from the project along with my score and finally, a project involving the software ‘Google Maps’ to pin audio to areas of landscape for the public to explore digitally.
This project was hugely rewarding and being able to stand beside my work after the concert rounded off the achievement.
Photo credit: Emily Needle
I’d like to say thank you once again to Shaun Davies for organising what was a great concert at the Wonder Inn on Wednesday night, and to the performers who played my music so brilliantly.