Comsposition Three – Progress Report

In my project proposal, I outlined Composition Three as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that explores themes of global conflict and the rise of right wing leanings in mainstream Western politics. Audio editing, processing and mixing techniques inspired by John Oswald’s ‘Plunderphonics’ album (Self-released, 1989) will be used. Pedigree and Chums’ song ‘Ad Finum’ from their eponymous debut EP (Self-released, 2013) will be used as source material.”

 

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Pedigree and Chums EP Artwork taken from pedigreeandchums.bandcamp.com

 

This composition has taken a slightly different direction than planned. It is less about the rise in right wing politics that I intended to explore but more of a general look at one specific modern conflict, namely that of the one in Syria. I juxtapose recordings of Western politicians speaking with the voices of Syrian child refugees who have fled their home country to camps in Lebanon. These are taken from a UNICEF recording and I include both the original recordings in Arabic and the translated English which I have recorded. The inclusion of the child refugee voices allows me to show the reality of the situation, that this is a real conflict affecting real people despite how distant it may be. It also leaves a more balanced view of what we might make of what is happening than if we had just included the samples of the Western politicians. I have my own views but I would like this piece to inspire the listener to come to an informed opinion through listening and looking into the matter in more depth as a result.

 

I feel this composition fits in with the overall objective of the project to compose “conceptually rich material”. It also presents the opportunity to “Respond to the possibilities brought about by the semantic meaning of the words present in the recordings I sample” and I am working to create the effect through both the utilisation of the voice samples and the concurrent samples to have this response. I also feel that steps have been taken as a result of the research that I have undertaken on storytelling (see earlier post on PJ Harvey) and coming up with evocative material that can be interpreted in different ways by different listeners.

 

The Pedigree and Chums material is extremely congruent to the application of plunderphonic techniques. The dynamism of the track allows for ease of selection of material to loop, edit, process and mix. It is incredible how much scope there is to create new sound-worlds from existing material in current DAW software.

 

The remaining challenges for this piece are to create a logical and seamless flow between the sections where refugees speak and where the “noise” of the politicians is heard. There needs to be a journey from start to finish with the various sections assembled in an order and manner that makes narrative and artistic sense.

 

At the start of the composition process, I was keen to incorporate the drum-breaks I had recorded of Draws Creature Mask drummer Lee Haxton playing into the piece but felt that the material was too rich not to be used in a separate composition of its own. I also felt that this material may distract from the piece’s plunderphonic elements.

 

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Photo of Lee Haxton drumming for Draws Creature Mask at Henry’s Cellar bar Edinburgh by Nicole Stapinski

 

I feel that the two contrasting types of voice in the piece confirm that this falls under the “conceptually rich” material that I set out to explore. I also feel that thus far I have used these materials in a sensitive and creatively effective manner. I believe that on the current trajectory of this composition process I will find the path to fully establish this piece as a convincing and musically powerful reaction to the apparent issues explored.

Comsposition Three – Progress Report

Composition Two – Progess Report

In my project proposal I outlined Composition Two as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that deals with the themes of mindfulness and mental health. The piece will fuse an alternative rock form with techniques used in electro-acoustic music. There will be an extended passage of cello towards the end, coupled with processed cello sounds similar in style to the ambience created by the processed sounds in Smalley’s ‘Tides’ (Smalley, 1984). Through stretching, panning and disguising the cello and its timbres, the electro-acoustic material will be used to enhance gestures and reflect motion in my solo cello part (Electrocd.com, 2016).”

 

Listen to ‘Pentes’ from Smalley’s ‘Tides’ album here.

 

The piece as it stands now does deal with the themes mentioned. This is shown lyrically and musically. The large bulk of the piece is in the alternative rock format, the proposed electro-acoustic section now only remaining as a coda. I decided to keep this section short as it tails the tension of the piece of nicely and I don’t believe I have anything more to say with the music at this point. I have also limited the processing of sounds in this section to a little time stretching and reversing of sounds. I want to get the most out of the natural sounds of the instrument but I am including the aforementioned processes and some eq filtering to enhance the overall sonic effect.

 

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Image of Logic Pro X Channel EQ plug-in interface taken from logicstudiotraining.com

 

The piece is played for the most part on conventional rock instruments and has an alternative rock /post rock feel with effect-heavy guitars, bass, drums and vocals that stray between mid-range and falsetto. The falsetto vocals and clean guitars bring an ethereal quality to the composition that foreshadow its conclusion with the dirty guitars and accompanying bass and drums bringing out the more conflicting feelings contained within the portrayed journey.

 

There is a building of tension resulting from the second chorus that unravels into the more relaxed, “mindful” section. We are then introduced to a number of layers of cello, including both lead and supporting parts the latter of which include harmony, harmonics and also processed (reversed, stretched) material. This completes the aesthetic journey from a busy to a mindful state of mind.

 

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Mindfulness Graphic taken from Welldoing.org

 

I aim to bring a sense of homogeneity to the structure of the coda influenced by French Spectral Music. I think I can better arrange small sections of material to reflect the idea of the whole of the section. The music should be visibly similar on a micro and a macro level. I may also add subtle parts in the rest of the piece that foreshadow the unravelling of tension and herald the transition to mindfulness.

 

Overall, I feel this composition is heading towards completion. I just need to give thought to details and really focus on getting the best out of the material I already have. This may mean addition, subtraction or alteration of materials drawing on sources from the types of music I am trying to write in the style of, for example post-rock and electro-acoustic music.

 

– Sandy Power

Composition Two – Progess Report

Composition One – Progress Report

In my project proposal I outlined Composition One as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that uses vocal samples relating to the theme of the search for meaning in life in today’s society. Initial inspiration for this comes from Paolo Nutini’s ‘Iron Sky’ from album ‘Caustic Love’ (Atlantic Records, 2014) which uses a speech from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) (Herald Scotland, 2014).”

 

Chaplin Dictator
Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Great Dictator’ (Image taken from vulture.com)

 

My piece has continued to work along this theme using vocal samples from neurologist, psychologist and author Viktor Frankl’s 1972 speech at Toronto Youth Corps on searching for meaning in life. The way in which I present and arrange the material is quite different to the way Nutini uses Chaplin’s speech, however.

 

In my composition I intersperse Frankl’s voice with sung lyrics. These work together at progressing the narrative. Frankl provides the source material, while I develop on the themes more in my lyrics. I also cut up and arrange Frankl’s voice to provide rhythm in tandem with the natural dynamics of his voice. This contrasts with the sample in ‘Iron Sky’, which is presented as a continuous whole on one track of the recording. I feel my piece needed to deviate from this formula to create a sense of movement and progression.

 

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Image of Viktor Frankl taken from Wikipedia

 

I split up the journey of Frankl’s speech. I start with his reference to a study of American students, moving on to his anecdote about his flight instructor and projections of where he would land depending on where he aimed to land and finally conclusions he has drawn from this and other evidence. I use repetition, double tracking and further arrangement of the vocal samples to create tension and rhythm in my piece. I use a longer, continuous sample at the end of the piece. This is coupled with a more relaxed musical setting to show the conviction, clarity and the strength of the message in his conclusions.

 

The instruments and style in my piece indicate a sense of modernity, placing us firmly in the present even though the sampled voice recording is forty five years old. I use synthesised sounds and syncopated rhythms to create an almost electronic dance music (EDMJUNKIES, 2015) feel in the piece. This reflects the fact that the issues discussed are equally relevant now as they were back a number of decades ago.

 

This piece is probably complete in terms of structure and length but there is still work to be done in terms of arrangement and additional recording and mixing.

 

– Sandy Power

Composition One – Progress Report

PJ Harvey – Stories from the Past, Stories of Today

PJ Harvey is an artist who has steadily built her reputation through a number of different approaches to her song-writing. From her early raw bluesy output, via the euphoric indie rock of Mercury winning ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’, PJ has arrived at a more socially conscious persona with her second Mercury winning album ‘Let England Shake’ and its follow up ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. ‘Let England Shake’ is a look back at the horrors of the First World War and English national identity. ‘Hope Six’ is a more up to date social commentary, addressing issues of poverty and war in as distant places as Kosovo, Afghanistan and the USA.

 

I am particularly interested in these last two albums as they discuss themes that I wish to explore in my own work. Unlike Harvey, I do not have the finances or profile to travel the world to study life in other countries like she did with ‘Hope Six’. I do, however, have the power of the internet to find a diverse range of sources from which to draw my own conclusions and inspire my art.

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Image of ‘Let England Shake’ album art taken from islandrecords.co.uk.

Within ‘Let England Shake’ we hear visceral accounts of life in the trenches and a sense of inflated nationalism not dissimilar to what is occurring in many countries across the world today.

 

One of the most successful songs on the album at reflecting the atrocities of a highly mechanised war is ‘The Words that Maketh Murder’. The opening lyrics are as graphic as any:

 

“I’ve seen and done things I want to forget;
I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat,
Blown and shot out beyond belief.
Arms and legs were in the trees.”

 

This depicts just how much of a disregard this conflict had for human life. We learn how soldiers involved would like to forget what they have seen and taken part in, with people being killed in the most inhumane of ways. The simile of shot soldiers as “lumps of meat” perfectly encapsulates their heavy, lifeless bodies and also the lack of humanity of the situation; they are not people, they are “meat”.

 

We are also treated to a nostalgic but not entirely savoury notion of Englishness in ‘England’:

 

“I live and die through England,

It leaves a Sadness…

It leaves a taste, a bitter one.”

We also hear a familiar sentiment in ‘The Last Living Rose’

 

“God damn Europeans,

Take me back to beautiful England”

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Image of ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ album art taken from creativereview.co.uk.

Hope Six brings us up to date with depictions of people in situations of poverty and war from around the world. The images she paints are stark and honest, singing about “drug towns” in the US and towns with “Fifteen gardens overgrown [and] fifteen houses falling down” in Afghanistan. However, as with ‘Let England Shake’, she is not primarily aiming to be political, rather she wishes to tell a story. She rejects the notion that she is a “protest singer” explaining on the Andrew Marr Show whilst promoting ‘Hope Six’ “I still call myself a songwriter… I gather information for songs and my biggest drive in life is to want to sing for people. That’s the way I get across things that interest me and concern me.”

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Harvey recording ‘Hope Six’ in Somerset House, London. The process was watched by spectators through one-way glass. Image taken from gtechdesign.net.

I would also like to portray the horrors of conflict and its effects on ordinary lives. In one of my compositions I am aiming to use vocal samples of political leaders and word setting of interviews with child refugees from Syria to create a similarly graphic and emotive vision of a current conflict. This is a challenge as it requires me to create appropriate musical settings for each of the spoken elements to work. At the moment, I am using more aggressive material on which to put the samples of the political leaders and more stretched and processed, yet still disconcerting sounds to place under the words of the refugee children.

 

The way PJ Harvey uses accounts from people and her own observations in ‘Hope Six’ has inspired me to paint a picture of a bleak situation, one that we need to look at from the perspective of those involved as well as the second or third hand sources of people in positions of power in our own part of the world. I am hoping to show the contrast between the first hand reality and the perceptions and actions of our governments to combat these problems in my composition.

 

Watch the official trailer for PJ Harvey’s ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ here

 

– Sandy Power

PJ Harvey – Stories from the Past, Stories of Today