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Monthly Archive: September 2008


Rhythmic games

Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Something I've always been drawn to in music - I admit in a slightly geeky way - are rhythmic patterns that appear to be have the downbeat in one place, when it is actually somewhere else entirely. In both the following examples, it appears clear where the downbeat is, but once the full ensemble kicks in you realise it is somewhere completely different. It's just a bit of fun, but for some reason I can go back to these examples and enjoy them again and again.

The first is from the Brand New Heavies self-titled album, and is called simply BNH. Here the downbeat clearly seems to be on the first of the bass drum notes, whereas it's actually on the last. A little game to try is to beat 4 in time with either of these 'downbeats' and try to continue throughout - very difficult!

Many years ago, I took this example to one of George Benjamin's all-day-Sunday classes (at RCM), he listened with interest, then after sampling the rest of the album he said "It's not uninteresting harmonically". Well all then fell about laughing that this would make a great quote on the album cover from an esteemed professor of the Royal College of Music.











The second is from a great album I stumbled across earlier this year from Orchestre Baka de Gbine recorded when members of the group Baka Beyond recorded an album with the Baka on a mobile solar-powered studio in the rainforests of Cameroon. The entry of the bass drum in this throws me every time (this rhythm, incidentally, inspired the final dance in my piece Gumboots). Gloriously, this song is called 'Boulez Boulez' - I'd love to know the translation, which I suspect is probably not a double homage to the composer of Le Marteau sans Maitre, nor an invitation to play the favourite French pass-time.














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Polish Dawn

Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008




Lagerphones to the ready! - October brings some of the most exciting performances of my career to date, kicking off in Minnesota with two performances of Piosenki by Dawn Upshaw and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. Dawn is one of five artistic partners the orchestra has, and here she has put together a great program featuring folk-inspired music from around the world. The exciting young singer Evan Hughes takes the baritone role, and indeed doubles on lagerphone.

Dawn is of course, no stranger to the charms and difficulties of the Polish language, having sung on the million-selling recording of Gorecki's Third Symphony, and also being the dedicatee of Lutoslawski's charming Chantefleurs et Chantefables (*). It's a great honour for me to have her singing my music, especially in what- as you can see below- looks to be pretty spectacular venue (the Ordway Center,MN):



>> Details of the concerts here

(*) Update There are two major errors with the crossed-out statement. 1) As can easily be inferred from its title, Lutoslawski's Chantefleurs et Chantefables is not actually in Polish. 2) Dawn tells me she wasn't the dedicatee of the piece. Oops.



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The Gift

Posted on Monday, September 22, 2008




Lewis Hyde's book The Gift is one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. In essence it talks about gifts and gift economies and how they function as compared to purchasing and market economies. A gift is something that encourages community between giver and receiver, whereas a purchase is faceless and requires no community. This partly explains how as our Western societies grow more and more focussed on buying and selling as the primary means of transaction, our communities grow more and more fragmented. Hyde then uses this distinction to define a view of the Arts as essentially part of the 'gift economy', and that the fact that artists find it hard to make money from their work, will often be a sign of the healthiness of the art - the more commercial an art becomes, the harder it is for it to retain its soul, its essence.

What I find particularly attractive about the book is that Hyde doesn't really take a strong political stance, he's not moralising (although he does in an afterword attack the 'corporate theft' of public domain by the continual extension of copyright laws), he's rather trying to define Art in the modern world. It's a subtle task, and one to which my summary here will do no justice. But there's such beauty and depth in his writing, it somehow completely transforms your understanding of the world.





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Gumboots

Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2008




I finished a new piece today, my commission from Carnegie Hall for the wonderful Todd Palmer and the St Lawrence String Quartet. The piece is called Gumboots, because it draws some of its inspiration from the gumboot dancers of South Africa. What excites me about this piece is that it encapsulates something of a paradoxical outlook on life I have, in which I have an almost nihilistic sense of the meaning of the world, and yet am also eternally optimistic. The fact that humans in general are capable of optimism even when the world is falling apart and terrible things are happening is, I think, a cause for comfort, and the amazing thing is that some of the darker sides of life are often the catalyst for wonderful works of art - gumboot dancing being a case in point.

>> Details of the concert here

>> More details and a programme note for the piece here



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