Inside A Tune: Epitaph Part I – The Soul

IMG_20180203_171152322

Later this month, I’m playing with a new group that’s been put together by Seth Bennett, a wonderful warm human being who plays double bass and composes. The project’s called What Love and is an octet of improvisers re-imagining the work of the great Charles Mingus.

Seth asked each of us to contribute a tune and opened up the vast canon of Mingus music for us to choose from. I dithered around as one by one, the band picked their pieces. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel inspired, it was just that I’d had my head burrowed in other composing projects and it was difficult to shift focus. Which work of Mingus’ did I have an emotional attachment to? I realised on a London bus as I travelled to teach one Wednesday evening. Epitaph. Mingus’ huge, bizarre, ambitious monster of a work that spans over 2 hours and 4,000 bars. I performed it for a friend’s final recital. It was difficult to get together, by turns ugly and beautiful and impossible and sublime. It’s a fitting Epitaph to Mingus, I think. So I decided to pick eight sections from Epitaph and create 8 individual graphic scores, each written specifically for a particular musician.

This is Part I: The Soul

IMG_20180203_171142920

I don’t want to reveal it all before it exists as sound with the band and I’d like them to be the first ones to fully understand the piece, but this score is the one I’ve written for myself so I can afford to elaborate a little on what you can see.

Each musician will be given three things – 1) a graphic score 2) fragments of notated music from the section of Epitaph the piece is based on and 3) information about the Epitaph is it inspired by.

In my case, the piece is The Soul which is the 6th part of Epitaph. There’s a video snippet of it being performed here on the mingusmingusmingus website.

The epitaph the score is inspired by is that of Chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.  I would urge you to read the profoundly important If This Is A Man and The Truce.

Levi was held in Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, a labour camp which was one of three main sites at Auschwitz complex. Of the 650 Jews transported to the camps with Levi, he was one of the 20 who left alive.

174517 was Levi’s record number, branded on his arm and used to identify him during the 11 months he was held. During that time, it defined him. Afterwards, it remained on his skin as a symbol of his past, his experience and his resilience.

Along with his birth and death dates and his name, 174517 is engraved on Primo Levi’s headstone.

174517 is written in red and black ink across the score, in columns roughly reminiscent of the Periodic Table. Layered on top of the columns is the floor-plan of Monowitz.

The piece also draws on inspiration from a work by Jasper Johns, a piece he created in 1992 called Nothing At All Richard Dadd. The dark, pencil drawing has layers of content built upon the floor-plan of Johns’ childhood home.

 

Advertisements

Inside A Tune: Arundel

IMG_20170508_175742

See One, Do One, Teach One – the debut album from Deep Tide Quartet – comes out on Discus on August 1st and we’re playing at the Verdict in Brighton tonight. I absolutely love being part of this band and Arundel is one of the pieces I wrote for the album…

Arundel is a piece of music based on the idea of gaps. It was the result of a kind of triangle of inspiration; Phillipe Sands’ book East West Street, the work of Anne Truitt & a discussion I had during psychotherapy about the reason for nightmares & dreaming.

The title of the piece comes from a series of Anne Truitt paintings of the same name. A major theme in her work, both on canvas and through sculpture, is the use of straight lines and blocks of solid colour. I was drawn to her work because I find it soothing; there’s something settling and calming that makes me want to be in their presence. In her journal, Daybook, Truitt recounts a conversation she had about conveying meaning and intent in art forms without words. She asked – what if someone who spoke no English and knew nothing about you came to view one of your exhibitions. The descriptions hung next to the works would be of no use; what would you expect that person to get out of work?

I replied that I did not expect, I hope. What I hoped was that something in their experience would, in some unpredictable way, rise to meet the work. We then agreed that, faced with the fascinating problem of translating what we know with the just accessible parts of ourselves into the available physical terms, we simply do our best, leaving all result aside.

 That phrase, ‘rise to meet the work’ struck me. It felt as if I was reading someone far more eloquent than I put words to my thoughts about composing music for improvising musicians – with the music I write, I hope that something within the musicians rise to meet the work and create something far beyond the written (or drawn) material.

Around the time of the recording session (which took place at the beautiful Chairworks Studios back in May), I was reading Philippe Sands’ East West Street. This non-fiction book recounts the events that led to the inclusion of the terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ in the Nuremberg Trials and the stories of the two lawyers who created them – Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin. Sands references a Nicolas Abrahams quote –

What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.

My therapist had a really good way to describe the function of dreams, especially when related to PTSD. When a trauma occurs, she said, it is so different from all your other experiences and memories up until that point that your brain doesn’t know where to file it. Furthermore, the details of the traumatic experience are too difficult to process so it remains an incomplete file as it were. It can’t be stored until it’s complete so the brain attempts to fill in the gaps with guesses and imaginings and dreams are the result.

Here is a little extract from my journal on 3rd May 2017.

I have come to realise that to ignore a gap simply increases it power. The darkness grows and seeps into other parts of the mind. So, one must acknowledge the gap and endeavour to fill it, which can often be done, or accept that it cannot be filled, which is sometimes inevitable. By filling it or accepting it, you remove its power. Either shine a light in the hole to confirm that no monster lurks there, or else build a bridge so you can walk safely across.

SO.

Arundel is the product of all of these thoughts. The score is contains 11 blocks, made up of black and white sections. Players read down from the 1st to the 11th in order. They are provided with the score, the Nicolas Abrahams quote and the instruction that each block is a combination of gaps and non-gaps. How that is interpreted is up to them.

LINK DUMP

Phillipe Sands – East West Street

Anne Truitt’s sculptures & paintings

Chairworks Studios, Castleford

See One, Do One, Teach One – Deep Tide Quartet (Discus Music Website)

The Verdict, Brighton