I did intend to sit down and compose an orchestral epic. I really, really DID, honest. Could I help it that as soon as I made that decision, the saxes started up a 1920s tea dance in my computer?! Only it’s not all sweetness and light and good ol’ days, in fact it sometimes gets a little murky in there, to say the least…
––“Kisses, even to the air, are beautiful” (Drew Barrymore)
Of all the physical relationships between performers and instruments, that of flautist and flute most closely resembles that of the kiss. The shape of the embouchure itself, lips rounded in the shape of an “O”, ready to go to work, and the sometimes erotic, but always sonically evocative, use of the tongue in contemporary flute music thus became the initial inspirations for the composition of this work. The use of the “tongue ram” in the section “French Kiss”, for example, speaks for itself, whilst the lip pizzicatos and triple tongueing in “Vampire Kiss” are more abstract in suggesting the love bites of those creatures of the night with their sharp little canines. But, of course, kisses can also simply be fond, as in “Air Kiss” and “Peck,” or playful, as in “Butterfly Kiss” where I use fluttertongueing to mimic the tickling brush of eyelashes on a cheek. Kisses can also be completely chaste–even holy–as the quietly murmuring tremolos in “Kiss of Peace” suggest. Since many of my recent pieces employ symmetrical scales and symmetrically constructed background harmonies, I could not resist the impulse in the concluding section of the work to use those symmetries to create a musical parallel to that wonderfully symmetrical upside down kiss from the 2002 Spiderman movie in which Spiderman (inverted) and Mary Jane Watson (upright) share an iconic kiss in the rain. In the end, as the variety of kisses in my piece implies, the idea of the kiss reminds me of music in the kaleidoscopic flexibility of its meaning and how even the simplest of kisses or compositions might evoke the vastness of human experience. As Jimi Hendrix once said, one can even kiss the sky. For now I’ll just settle for kisses on the wind.
Banda is a genre that sprang to life in the late nineteenth century when Mexican music collided with the polka of German immigrants. Traditional bandas are centred around the sousaphone and the tambora (a bass drum with a hi-hat on top). Beyond these, you’ll find further wind, brass and percussion instruments depending on the regional style: clarinets, saxophones, alto horns, trumpets, trombones, tarolas (snare drums) and more.
A few months before writing this piece I’d seen a YouTube video of Chicago group Banda Sincera performing before a Mexican national team football match*. The atmosphere was party, the tempo was quick, the time was compound, the licks were virtuosic, and the pulse was always getting disrupted at the ends of sections. The band would pause, the tarolero and sousaphone dude would go off on a soloistic tangent, and then the band was back in for more of the same. They even stuck a conga-based cumbia in the middle! These guys were mental and I loved it.
When I started on a piece for Saxcess I established the reasonably serious beginnings of Huff, but I kept getting pulled down this raucous Mexican garden path. I put the serious to one side, started a new score, took a few days to get this “banda chiflada” (crazy band) out of my system, and resumed composing Huff when I was done. They’re two very different pieces, but ultimately cut from the same cloth.
This piece arose out of collaboration with multi instrumentalist, Adam Page. The fixed media track was composed as a “virtual ensemble” to accompany a soloist. The title “Crunch Time” is representative of the manic and stressful character of the piece.
In many ways this is a companion piece to an earlier work, Vivid for solo trumpet, which also sets a powerful, sexually charged poem by Will Christie. But where Vivid is very often overtly violent and forceful in its gestures, deepwalker is mostly much subtler, almost passive-aggressive in outlook. The opening lines of the poem – “the day is a drum that connects these vocal loops with grey traffic circles bridge after bridge” – are mirrored in the cyclical, sometimes elliptical form of the work, loops and circles that play between registers of the clarinet. Sexual tension and aggression bubble away in the background, periodically rupturing the musical surface with piercing, angular outbursts, sometimes in parallel with the rather tender, fluid lines of the low register, and with the spoken text itself. This violent interplay creates a kind of disordered internal conversation, a bizarre hermetic character opening and shutting her windows; a clarinet of many voices.
eight pieces for wind quartet was inspired by Ligeti’s extraordinary, dramatic work Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet, and my eight pieces uses this work as a model, where movements alternate between slow-moving, cloud-like textures and jittery, virtuosic interjections. The fragments of melody are constantly reaching outwards, the tense, at times nightmarish, harmonic language constantly straining, edging towards the elusive octave. Within the twelve-tone framework I wanted to create as much diversity and flexibility as possible, always keeping a tension between motion and stasis. Each piece is a kind of elaboration of the same melodic idea, a blueprint that is constructed differently each time, like seemingly unrelated episodes in a dream. Below is a short poem that I think embodies the miniature nature of each piece and the work as a whole.
if a dream came to you
you might catch it, hold it,
sculpt from it an elaborate
memory, the husk of a rushed
feeling, the miniature
interior of a moment