The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has forced musicians to adapt to remote working, often making music independently of one another. Ironically, this is something I had been thinking about in 2019, long before lockdown, because I wanted to explore asynchronous rhythmic elements in my music: passages in which players are not governed by a single, unifying pulse, but have opportunities to move apart from one another, to play independently, either individually or in small groups. Little did I suspect that I would be composing this music during a global pandemic in which we were all forced into working apart from one another!
I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the non-verbal communication that takes place during ensemble performance: the way in which players send (and receive, and interpret) visual and musical signals, and I wanted to incorporate some of these ideas into the fabric of a piece. There are three basic ways that I explore asynchronicity: firstly, there are passages in free time, where there is no pulse, and movement is controlled from one phrase to the next by different players, responding to musical cues from others to 'trigger' the next event. Secondly, there are passages in which there are multiple, simultaneous tempi, often where one player retains the tempo of a previous section when others have moved into a new tempo. And thirdly, there are passages in which players have freedom to determine the timing of their entries (or exits). It's really all about the interaction of performers, instrumental lines and musical elements; every performance will be different, even when a similar passage occurs twice within a single playing of the piece.
As always in my music, there is plentiful repetition; ideas move into the foreground then recede, only to return later in different contexts. I like the analogy of a person wandering aimlessly around a town, during which they regularly encounter sights previously seen from different directions, angles and perspectives: they experience familiar sights, unfamiliar sights, and the familiar ones in new guises. Memory plays an important role, so in the music I have tried to ensure that there are elements which will be recognised when they reappear, even if they are never quite the same each time. The title of the piece 'Before I fall asleep, again, the city...' is the first line of a novel by French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, who also delighted in this sort of multiple perspectives; it reflects my concept and it casts my piece into the domain of a recurring, if half-forgotten, memory.
My piece went through several stages of evolution before a final version emerged; it was that typical (for me) experience of knowing exactly what I wanted yet not being able to write it down. Then half way through the process I stumbled across a piece I had composed during the early stages of my PhD studies, which had never been performed and had certainly not impressed my supervisor. I can understand why - it was very muddled and it didn't flow at all, but parts of it were just what I needed, and when the old material was stitched together with the new, I could immediately see that this could be made to work.
Thanks to a research grant from YSJU I was able to approach Trilogy, an exciting new ensemble, with a view to performing it, and was delighted when they agreed. The pandemic (still ongoing, as I write) has meant that all arrangements need to be provisional for the moment, but if all goes to plan and concerts can return, we are looking to perform this in York and London next year - and I can't wait to hear it!