The London Symphony Orchestra has kindly published a post by me as part of a beautiful overview of the Panufnik Scheme. My description of my new piece, Muted The Night, sits alongside insights into the scheme from Jonathan Woolgar and Matthew Kaner.
The Panufnik scheme has been wonderful, providing me with opportunities to work with astonishing musicians. Sadly, the current epidemic has delayed the workshop. Perhaps it is cruelly appropriate that a piece whose creation was so defined by unwilling confinement should have its realisation postponed in the same way. It was a hard necessity, having expended much to write the piece in recuperation.
I will expand on my post for the LSO here, to mention another important point of reference.
While very influenced by the techniques of Giacinto Scelsi and the rhythmic language of Cassandra Miller, whom I mention in the blog, the atmosphere of the work is probably most drawn from the band Beach House.
Beach House is a remarkable band, with an entirely consistent sound world – you can barely tell their early albums from their late ones. They have mastered a particular mood: drifting, hazy, with little waxing or waning. These slabs of sound make use of detuned organs and retro, broken samplers, creating a complex atmosphere with familiar components. I love the way that the organ sounds combine. Each sampled sound uses detunings to thicken their line, the cumulative effect of which is a hazy, displaced sound world.
Their rhythmic ideas accentuate this. The samplers and guitar pedals they use often have a slow attack, meaning that instruments are shoved off the beat by a random but consistent amount. Listen to the lag on the chords that enter at 1’18” in Space Song, for example. To me, it’s a moment the lifts the track into something extraordinary, causing the lines to glide across one another in an almost detached manner. I was interested to know how this worked in live performance: to my excitement, they perform the delay perfectly live.
Both these ideas surface in Muted The Night. I make frequent use of a ‘Neutral Chords,’ that lie in between a major and minor chord. For me, the associations of major (HAPPY!) and minor (sad) are suspended in these in-between sounds. To this, I add Beach House’s detunings. The performers of the conventional, stable outer fifth of the chord play with thick vibrato, creating an unstable haze. The performers of the unconventional, suspended neutral third play it dead straight.
Beach House’s sense of rhythmic detachment is challenging to evoke in an orchestral context. That fluid sense of playing ‘out’ is difficult to coordinate across dozens of players in a way that doesn’t sound sloppy. Instead, the second half the piece uses two different metres. One group of players plays five beats a bar (5/4), the other group plays four beats (12/8). In my head, this dislocation is like oil floating on water.
If you want to have a play with a Beach House sound, I’d recommend the RM-20 sample set from Reverb Machine. It’s less than a tenner and is good fun.
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