Kate Young's blog, Electronics 2013

Mon 4 Feb 2013
watch Kate's workshop

Kate_Young_Tectonic_Bath.mp3 (MP3 Audio - 20.68Mb)

Today I really opened up my ears to listen to my music in a way I have never done before. I could not have done this without the enthusiasm and supportiveness of McFall’s quartet, Ben and invaluable guidance of Pippa Murphy, as I felt that she quickly understood my score and what I was trying to achieve by bringing it to the workshop. Pippa really acted as a bridge between the two worlds of the string players and the electronics as she was able to maintain a natural flow of communication between everyone. For me, this in itself was something quite amazing to watch as I have very little previous experience of using electronics, which for me seemed a bit of a minefield to understand! I guess the reason I was drawn to this workshop was purely out of curiosity...I had thought that working with an acoustic quartet was amazing enough, but to be able to really manipulate the sound in ways that are impossible on any instrument seemed fascinating to me – that you could create something which could travel to another planet...

My piece is named Tectonic Bath after writing the main melody whilst working on a farm in Iceland, October 2012. I was thinking a great deal about the tectonic fundaments of such a wild and beautiful place, and what feeling I got from it on an energetic level. I wrote the score in sections, imagining each as a plate under the land shifting at its own pace, creating tension where they divide, and this idea is what I intended to try to sonically elicit through the use of electronics. As this was my first time composing with the intention of involving electronics, I approached the score with a very open mind for which might occur during the session, and although i wrote it as though it seemed in linear form, I wanted to try out different ways in terms of joining up each section – like one section I had written to be pre-recorded and then played over the live score, I also involved some short recorded extracts that I had prepared prior to the workshop. One was of me standing on a frozen puddle in Seydisfjordur, East Iceland on a day when the edge of the sea had completely frozen. It made an interesting whistling/cracking sound, whilst another recording was of myself singing and playing.

Pippa showed me how to direct the sound of each instrument through the interface and into logic, where I chose what plug-in I would like to use. This basically means the way that the sound is altered to create a different effect. Later on she linked some of the controls over the effects used, reverb and volume of each instrument up to a panel which I was able to control through and piece, and work out where i would like to use the different effects. This was a really different feeling than anything I have done before in terms of being part of an ensemble. I am a musician and so used to contributing to the sound in a way that acoustic instrumentalists do, whereas here, I had control almost over the overall sound, no matter what was being played. Pippa encouraged me to take risks and switch the effects at different speeds – it almost felt like a kind of dance at some points...

What I realised was that I personally enjoyed it the most, and felt the most connected to the other musicians and the landscapes within the music when I had asked the players to improvise a little before and after the score. At the end, it was really flying and though I had enjoyed hearing my score being played back by such great musicians, in this circumstance I wished i had allowed more space for freedom and simplicity within it, rather than packing in lots of melody, harmony and rhythmic elements. But somehow it seemed that by the time the notes had ran out and we were just playing with the sound, it had been necessary to have had the score played to be able to reach the point where, as I felt it, the music really began... (which as at the end of the score!). So in this way, I felt that I had reached some kind of conclusions for myself – I’m glad that I had always viewed the score I wrote as a kind of exercise, it would have been a mistake the write something to perfection and become attached to details (I was very rough with the score and left a lot of dynamics etc to interpretation). By learning some very basic things on Logic, I was able to start to form some kind of structure in my mind of how I would like to lay out the score for the players, and how I might go about this in the future. I would very much like to further progress in my development of combining electronics with my compositions in the future, and from this experience I have not only gained some knowledge of how I might better approach it next time, but also when I noticed that when I got home and listened to Sigur Ros, I began to understand and appreciate it on a completely new level. Rather than it sounding like a wash of pretty sounds coming and going, they began to form some kind of order, which I think is something that is vital to understand when working with so many variables – one could end up lost in a sea of ideas, without maintaining a focus on your vision or main idea, some potentially exciting parts could remain formless and lost.

This has also acted as a valuable lesson for me as I have hoped for some time to write a lot more music for quartet as part of a larger project, which would link with my solo performance work. I have hopes to combine it with story-telling and an animation I have been working on and the idea of involving electronics, however I have a clear stylistic view that for the type of thing i want to create there must be a certain balance maintained between the raw, acoustic sound and the computerised sound. I feel it is important not to forget about the natural beauty of the quartet, as it is in itself, something which is incredibly dynamic and explorative and it would be a terrible shame to lose those qualities. It is more about the interplay of all things that make for creative, interesting, and inspired listening, and interaction between players.

I have very much enjoyed this rare experience, and felt very pleased to have been chosen to be part of such an amazing team of people. Thank you to all who made it possible!

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