…out of silence…

This piece was written in response to the choreography of Joseph Toonga. We wanted to create something that had a sense of space and of flexibility. Not meditative in mood but having that same quality of freedom and reflection. This piece was written in a very organic way, with ideas developed at the keyboard and then extended and combined freely. There were essentially three musical ideas for the piece: a ‘textured’ and ‘inflected’ silence, an energetic syncopated motif, and the opening-out of a cluster chord (B,C,D).

Giving Space Motif 1



I wanted to maintain a consistency between the three ideas, so there are similarities in the tonal content, and the rhythms have similarities in their relationship to syncopation. The first main theme came from the various permutations of the three-note set, shifting them around to create memorable musical motifs and then shifting them in pitch and repeating them in real and tonal sequence. This theme did not need to feel busy, and so I wanted to avoid anything which had a very long extended musical line or too much rhythmic or harmonic complexity. Rather, I wanted to reflect and refract more fragmented ideas, with space and silence between them, without obvious system or framework. The second theme was faster and more energetic, as I found in rehearsal that although the more reflective material worked, it started losing energy after a while, and so I felt that a shift in momentum was needed. This came in the form of a syncopated 8-note motif made from four pitches (but still outlining the same pan-tonality of the first theme) which is ‘stuttered’ into a full thematic line. By this I mean that rather than stating the theme and then varying it the motif starts with two notes before starting again, getting through a bit more of the motif, then starting again and again until the whole motif is outlined:


I then developed the resulting line in a similar piecemeal manner, using these ‘stutters’ as a way of creating syncopation and increasing the energy. Tonally, I used many of the methods I used on the first theme on this second theme, taking fragments of it and transposing them, and using chords based on the motifs of the first theme. After an early workshop with the player I found that some of this section was technically tricky, and started moving towards monotony, so I rewrote a few bars here and there using new sounds and effects, such as drumming on the soundboard, tapping fingers, low glissandi and nail scrapes. These were organically placed at moments of the piece in collaboration with the player, and with no underlying structure or rationale.

When devising the piece with the choreographer we discussed a quality of intimacy that we both wanted. He already had his dancers organised, and knowing that there were only two of them, and both female, gave us a sense of the nature of the dance and therefore the nature of the music. Although this suggested a solo or small ensemble, the actual instrumentation changed a number of times during the composition process. The ideas were originally sketched for violin duo, then arranged for violin and harp, before it settled on being a harp solo. This required some rewriting to make the piece better suited for the harp, but gave me a great palette to work with, and it had an important physical presence onstage. In the end the dance piece became a trio for two dancers and harp, as the harp’s presence on stage became integrated into the staging, and the intimacy and quietness of the overall performance seemed to work well. Because of this intimacy it was possible to give the dancers and the player a higher level of flexibility in their performance, and so the piece was written with a number of cues and rest-points to give the dancers time to express their movement without having to keep chasing the music. Similarly, the harpist took cues from the dancers, who would occasionally pause on a movement to allow the music to properly align with the dance. Writing this freedom and flexibility was always a part of the composition of the piece, but it worked well with the notions of pausing, resting and starting again that were built into the two main themes.

The final element of the piece to come together was the opening and closing bars. There was originally a traditional introduction to the piece, but we decided to replace this with a more atmospheric effect. The quiet, slow glissandi up and down created an atmosphere just on the edge of hearing, and on the edge of music and sound. In performance we decided that the dancers would be in place before the audience entered, with a visual and aural silence. Added to this were tiny movements from the dancers, microscopic hints of what was to follow, and a quieter version of the glissando effect from the beginning of the piece. When the audience was ready the first bar of the written music started imperceptibly and the dancing started to emerge. The end of the piece had a related effect, whereby the music decayed back into silence. In this case the dancing was highly energetic, and the noises of the dancer became part of the music as the energetic, syncopated tonality of the harp part ended. The final section of the piece was made up of a weighted silence, shaded by the noises of the dancer, and punctuated by quickly fading harp harmonics. These were not timed, although in rehearsal cues were decided on based on the dancing, and operated in a free unsynchronised space. I found three pairs of pitches which were echoed out by the harpist as individual notes, before the final ringing out of the full motif. This synchronised with the penultimate moments of the choreography, and the dance was completed in the silence in which it had begun.

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