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Likeness

 

As another branch of the project, Aldeburgh Music asked me to write a piece that grows out of Permutations but can be performed by Tamsin as part of a solo recital. For this I wrote Likeness, for live solo violin and five recorded parts.

Likeness uses the musical characters and material developed in Permutations, while playing with the relationship between the immediacy and vibrancy of live performance and its recorded counterpart. The recorded parts are spatially distributed around the venue - in this case the Britten Studio at Snape - so that the audience is surrounded by the 6 parts but facing the live part. This accentuated the dialogue between the music and its acoustic setting as well as between the parts themselves.

As part of the programme, we gave a pre-concert talk in the Britten Studio in which we traced our creative process and relationships throughout the project. Since this collaboration is critical to the project, we found this a particularly rewarding experience, having received a positive and engaged response from our audience. 

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Unveil

 

Using the some of the material I had written for Permutations, I wrote Tamsin a solo violin piece. Approaching this work, I attempted to create a sense of simultaneity of different musical materials through a process of juxtaposition. I began by adapting several of the different characters Permutations into solo material, and expanding on them in this capacity. When we were in Nikola Lenivets I had recorded myself in various acoustics improvising around the melody of my first solo violin sketch, written to experiment with in Eaton Square church originally. I went back to these recordings and chose various fragments from my improvisations to notate. I then treated them as the centre of the work, while the other characters formed a cumulative collage of material leading the listener away from the melodic line gradually. I imagined each of the characters as different interweaving pathways around a central thread, that would eventually fall away to reveal, or unveil the melody in its original form. 

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Recording Permutations in the Kiln

 

During the last of our spring 2015 residencies at Aldeburgh, Tamsin and I recorded two of my six-part sketches. It was the first time she'd played any of the material for the six part sketches. We did this very simply using click tracks, a zoom recorder and logic. Some of the difficulties we experienced taught us more about how we will need to record Permutations when it is time to record the piece in full. This was a way of sharing what I had been writing with people at Aldeburgh as well as with Finbarr, Andrew and Tamsin. 

The two sketches we recorded, currently known as the Tuesday sketch and the Thursday sketch, each make use the space in a different way. 

One of the questions I had to begin to grapple with when writing the six-part sketches was whether the music could or should exert any control over the audience’s movements within the chamber. I suppose it is impossible to tell at this point whether listeners will be directed by the music in the way that I expect. The decision I made during the spring time residencies at Aldeburgh was that each of the sketches would play with the space in a different way, creating different relationships between the listener and the music around them. The Tuesday sketch directs the audience to the central chamber more than any of the others, although experiencing the it from one of the chambers would fragment and emphasise certain parts of the line. 

The Thursday sketch will be the opening of Permutations. Arriving into the chambers, the opening chords envelop the listener in sound from all sides. This will serve to aurally map out the entire space within Permutations for the audience. The nature of the chords is such that depending on a listener's movements or position, they will be given a different impression of the tonality of the opening of Permutations

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Arch, Nikola Lenivets

 

Amongst the various acoustic settings explored was a scupltural belvedere, entitled ‘Arch’, designed by the Russian architect Bernaskoni. Constructed from stacked timber planks, this perforated viewing platform provided an opportunity to experiment with the acoustics of another informal performance setting. Freya wrote a simple contrapuntal piece inspired by her time at Nikola Lenivets which we then rehearsed with a number of other volunteers from the unit and eventually performed inside the structure for our Russian hosts and peers. We saw the Arch piece as another example of how performance can be used as research towards the development of our project. 

 

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Nikola Lenivets

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In November 2014, we spent a week in a small Russian village called Kvizzhi, part of Nikola-Lenivets art park. Working alongside a group of students from the Moscow School of Architecture, the Free Unit took part in a workshop focussed on the refurbishment of a former Soviet-era shop. We took this opportunity to test Freya’s initial sketches for Permutations in a range of different acoustic environments within the ruin of the shop as well as elsewhere in the art park. 

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six architectural characters

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Permutations Family Portrait

Our compositional exercises in expressing counterpoint in an architectural form culminated in a design iteration which focuses more on the idea of six architectural figures: individual ‘characters’, each with its own acoustic and spatial personality, corresponding to the individual solo-parts of the musical composition. This began to address our concerns regarding the acoustic and visual homogeneity of the previous proposal that we had begun with. These ideas are expressed by this timber model, all constructed in a similar manner but with proportional differences which came about through experimentation. Each volume - when struck against the walnut base pictured - resonated at different frequencies due to their differing masses and forms.

Contrapuntal script performance

With the help of Freya and three volunteers, including Robert Mull and visiting critics’, Ellis Woodman and Maria Smith, we performed a spoken piece in basic counterpoint for the rest of our peers in the Cass Free Unit. The script for the piece was a concise description of our aspirations for the project. The intention of the performance was to express some of the compositional ideas at the heart of the project, both in the music and in the architecture, whilst involving individuals external to the project in expressing the scope of its intent. It was an exercise in the use of performance as a didactic tool, a form of cultural production that is at once expressive of a set of creative values and at the same time teaches the participants and audience about a musical phenomenon. In many respects, the performance embodied more than just the spirit of the project; it also defined a way of articulating our broader aspirations for our own creative practices.

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Recording Sketches at Eaton Square

 
 

In October 2014 we had our first opportunity to listen to a number of musical sketches that Freya had been working on for the piece. We met at St Peter’s Church on Eaton Square before Tamsin’s rehearsal there. Here we made a series of recordings testing the sketches in a variety of acoustic conditions that the church had to offer, including the highly reverberant nave and a number of small alcoves with varying degreess of absorbtion. This was a vital and altogether invigorating way for the team to get their ears tuned to the compositional ideas underpinning the piece, allowing them to get a feel for the atmosphere and range of musical effects Freya was interested in experimenting with.

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Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

My early conception of Permutations was as a tool through which to explore six-part counterpoint, imagining the violin parts as six equal, interwoven contrapuntal lines. The idea of being able to physically walk through the fabric of the music, and single out each thread individually was an exciting motivating factor for me. While this is still a large part of it, the entire piece will not consist of constant polyphony. Listening to some of the great feats of counterpoint from history, I began examining Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in some detail. I noticed that the intervals between the notes in the fugal subject are a palindrome. 

One of the notes that can be seen sketched on Finbarr and Andrew’s very first sketch of Permutations is ‘repetition : sublime’. Andrew wrote the note after reading parts of Edmund Burke’s ‘On the Sublime and Beautiful’, in which Burke writes the repeating visual elements create an imaginary infinite space, evoking a sense of the sublime.    

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The reflection of these ideas in Beethoven’s powerful fugal subject led me start playing around with the palindrome, exchanging the intervals while keeping the pattern constant. I enjoyed the way the patterns sounded somehow familiar and unexpected at once, and so began to use them for my sketches. At this point, I explained the palindrome in the fugal subject and how I had used the pattern to create my own palindromes to Finbarr and Andrew. They then became interested in the idea of using the palindromic structure to inform the architectural proposal in a direct way, by purposefully designing a visual rhythm in the chamber linings. 

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Linea

Linnea

A composition for Kew Gardens Princess of Wales Glass House, performed by Reverie

Freya had written a site-specific piece for one of the glasshouses at Kew Gardens, as part of their intoxication series. The piece was part of her research into presenting music to listeners outside of the traditional concert hall context, and especially in a spatialised composition. The choir for the piece, Reverie, was split up into groups of solos, duets and ensembles and positioned in specific parts throughout the route of the glass house. The long glass house is made up of a ten interconnected rooms with glass doors, which form the main route through the building from one entrance to the other. Freya spoke of each piece being composed specifically for the acoustic environment of each room, which had different qualities based on the plants they were to accommodate. A number of the exotic plants required high levels of humidity, which had a great deal of effect on the perception of an acoustic environment. 

During the performance, the choir were mostly static, as visitors were free to wander between performers. At the end of the performance, the entire choir walked towards a single point in the glasshouse, all singing their individual parts. The final part of the performance saw the full choir coming together to sing in the same vicinity. Walking through the glasshouse was helpful in providing insight into the themes running throughout Freya’s compositions, of which Permutations is a development.