Tuesday, 21 June 2011

New release: Music of the Spheres

I don't often write drone music, but I was recently asked by noise=noise to write a drone piece for their event, A Midsummer Night's Drone, a celebration of the summer solstice on the Suffolk coast in which drones would be played from sunset until sunrise the next day. They were asking for work that explored the mathematics of the solar system, so I created a piece using the notion of 'the harmony of the spheres'.

The concept of the harmony of the spheres originated with the Pythagorean philosophers of ancient Greece. Using the ratios of the orbits of the planets, they drew analogies between music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. Harmonies are also ratios, and so the orbits of the planets could be thought of as one giant harmony encompassing the solar system. But this music was not necessarily one of actual sound, but rather conceptual sound: a mental music using the power of the human brain to abstract reality and make connections between ideas. 

The idea re-emerged with the likes of Johannes Kepler, whose ‘musica universalis’ again connected geometry, cosmology, astronomy, harmonics and music in one enormous and powerful concept. 

In exploring this concept, my piece, Music of the Spheres, uses the ratios between the average orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris as the basis of its harmonic development. To govern the relative weighting of each harmony I used the mass of the respective body, eg. Jupiter being the most massive, it was the loudest. I wanted to get something across of the extreme scale of the solar system, both in terms of size and timescale, so opted for a very slow and gradual development. This would allow me to keep the feeling of a drone, while having a continuous evolution of the sound.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra: Musical Settings Part I

On Sunday I played with the a.P.A.t.T Orchestra in a concert that included work by Cornelius Cardew, Liverpool composer, Richard Harding, and Argentinian composer, Alan Courtis. The concert was the first part of a series of events that will take in various unusual locations in and around Liverpool. This one was at the bandstand in Sefton Park.

The first piece was Alan Courtis' In-Formed Music for newspaper ensemble, which was much as described on the can: creating sounds and textures using newspapers, which had been supplied by the Echo newspaper. More interesting was the next piece, Richard Harding's Untitled, which, while tonal, used aleatoric and improvisational processes to create shifting clouds of sound. Finally came Cardew's piece, Paragraph 7 of The Great Learning. The work is for voices, and with the 23-strong ensemble sounded quite stunning, resounding in power and beauty in equal measure. Using guided improvisation, Cardew's piece starts with dense and dissonant harmonies, slowly evolving into a sparser harmonic field, though still retaining the power of the massed voices.

Here's a short article about the event.

The a.P.A.t.T Orchestra

There are also some photos of the concert taken by Michael Pace-Sigge.

New Hot Hail release on Electronic Musik: Utrum

Last week a new piece of mine was released as part of a compilation album by net-label, Electronic Musik. The piece is called Utrum, from the Latin for 'whether', and was released under the Hot Hail name. Sparse and desolate, it explores continuous evolution of sound and timbre, while developing what Stockhausen called 'moment form', the idea of taking a single instant of time and stretching it out to examine it microscopically. The piece uses a variety of sound sources, including my newly constructed trombone-clarinet hybrid. There are a lot of other interesting works on the compilation too, so be sure to check them out as well.

Electronic Musik Fifth Compilation