Early one morning, the sound of bird song caught my attention and enticed me to leave the house before the crack of dawn. Still in my pyjamas, I slipped in to my wellies and coat and stepped outside. It was still dark outside and rain was falling gently as I wound my way through the deserted streets of north Manchester. The country was technically in lockdown at the time, but I knew that no one would be out at this time as I strolled ecstatically across the usually highly congested high roads without a care in the world.
I allowed myself to wander freely, without any direction in mind, and simply listened to the sounds around me. I was reflecting over the possibility of writing a postcard piece for a close friend of mine, Maria Palapanidou, and was soon lost in thought, without any sense of where I was going or of the steady passage of time.
I’d initially come across the idea of writing a postcard piece when I saw a post on social media, advertising composition submissions to the London Sinfonietta. They were requesting graphic scores, small enough to fit on the back of a postcard and sent by mail for a live stream youtube premier. There was something about this that sounded really appealing, not least because the works that emerged out of this project were incredible, but also because I was simply fascinated by the concept of fitting a musical score into such a small space and giving it a dual function; both as a piece of music, and as a piece of art.
It was as I was contemplating this that I thought about how virtual everything in my life had become – how every form of communication with the real world was floating in the overwhelmingly vast expanse of the internet – and how this was beginning to drive me mad! The idea of writing a postcard piece was so compelling because it seemed to satisfy my desire to form a tangible connection with the people I love and care about.
Reflecting over this, I explored the possibilities of this expressive medium and struggled to envision anything that could possibly express how I felt at the time: lost and lonely in the chaos of my thoughts, I felt trapped in a state of desperate confusion and creative ineptitude.
Just as I was going to give up on the idea, I was suddenly struck by a thought that has, till today, changed the way I think about composition. It occurred to me that I was investing a great deal of effort into finding a musical concept for my piece – one that would affectively express how I felt at the time, whilst I was still unsure about how what it was that I wanted to address. Experimenting with the idea that an artwork doesn’t necessarily have to emerge out of the ‘concept’ at all, I explored the notion of discovering our ‘concept’ through the act of simply creating.
In more concrete terms, I realised that by improvising with my most basic instincts and excluding more conceptual thought processes, I could explore what was going on in my mind and portray this in a piece of music.
This is how I came to write ‘The origami Crane’, a postcard piece for the pianist Maria Palapanidou. Starting out with the sole objective of creating an interesting artwork for her to hang on her wall, I executed a series of instinctive pencil strokes until I had created a shape that portrayed something both dynamic and emotive in its contour. Gradually adding detail to this image, I used the sweeping lines and curves as a musical scaffold and turned it into a score by adding the pitches according to what I felt to be visually compelling.
After this, I took the music to the keyboard. After messing around with different interpretations of what I saw, I refined the musical narrative, and began to play. Suddenly, the image came to life – the huge powerful wings of the bird-like form embodying the swift and sweeping gestures of liberty itself. I could do what I liked with the music; I had no bars, no time signature, no key signature – nothing to determine which notes to avoid and which beats to emphasise. This is how, like a child who had recently discovered a new climbing frame, I found myself in a framework that allowed me to let my imagination run free and explore the slopes and folds of the structure I’d created.
This is when I felt my true thoughts and feelings unleash themselves from the depths of my mind and this is where my composition approach had reached its turning point. During the initial stages of my creative process, I no longer make it my goal objective to determine what I want to say, but to consider simultaneously the issue of how this may be said, in order to reveal the deep and inexplicable phenomena buried in the art of creation itself.
In this months’ composer’s forum, you will hear the original rendition of my composition ‘The Origami Crane’, performed and recorded by Maria Palapanidou during lockdown some years ago. We will be discussing how the process of improvisation can be used as a tool for composition, and will be discussing how this expressive medium manifests itself in the final piece of music.
About the Forum
This free online event is scheduled on the first Sunday of every month. Here we offer composers the opportunity to showcase their work and invite musicians from all backgrounds to join a vibrant community; where one can share ideas, inspire each other, provide feedback and join in discussion over various contemporary topics relevant to the music of our times.
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