Tuesday, 28 February 2012

On Saturday, everything crystalized. I thought I’d tell you how.

On Saturday 25th February I got all the ideas for the Atlantic crossing. Days like this are great. I haven’t known how to set this bit for a while, couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but now, after weeks of putting it out of my mind and writing other bits instead, it finally all came together. Days like this are also great because one feels one does a tremendous amount of work with hardly any effort, which in my book is really the way it should always be but never is. Things click into place, things which were perplexing suddenly become obvious, and connections become apparent and tangible between things and other things that previously seemed totally unrelated.

As soon as everything came together I had to stop, as I had to go to a performance of a piano trio of mine the next day, and now as I type am on my way up to Leeds to teach. But I thought I’d put down on paper all my thoughts about how I’m going to compose this section first, before I actually write it, and then, when I’ve finished it in a week or so, I’ll tell you what I actually did.

The last section that I set involved Amy and Jim embarking on their joint Atlantic crossing. I think I wrote about this earlier in the post about Jim Mollison. The part that I was worried about was the section directly after this - where they start to run out of fuel and then crash.

So, it’s basically a section in two parts - they start off in England in the first part, run out of fuel over the USA and crash in the second. I wanted to represent the change of continents with a change in harmony - in simple terms from English pastoral to New York cool. So the first sections are based around E and F chords, moving in to F sharp majory/minory chords in the second (as they just ‘fit’ to me). The first bit is set to a sort of off-kilter waltz (see a few blogs back) and the second will be completely different - variable time signatures etc with very likely a constant quaver motion running throughout.

Thinking about pacing, this is going to move rather fast, and the rhythm is going to be repetitive but with ‘spluttering’ breaks in it that will increase due to the gradual failure of the engine (as it runs out of petrol). Harmony-wise, I spent an hour or so looking through Mark Levine’s Jazz Piano book, as I wanted to find jazz influenced harmony that would sound very ‘urban’: I think to Jim New York might be some kind of socialising mecca. The chapter on upper structure chords was what I was looking for, and in fact simply playing through the table of the 9 upper structure chords sounds really great on it’s own. In other parts of the opera the chords span a wide distance - sometimes in a five note chord each interval may be more than an octave apart. In this section I am going to keep the top and bottom notes of the chord quite close together - probaby under two octaves. This is partly just for variety, and partly because I want to use write chord melodies, with all the parts playing in parallel motion, going up and down mimicking the motion of the airplane as Amy continually urges Jim to get the nose higher and circle in order to lessen the impact of the crash. This will be more apparent if the chords are quite narrow in range as they will be able to go up and down over wide distances without going out of intrumental ranges. The vocal parts are going to be quite rapidly delivered - they are after all in increasing panic, so they may be quite recitative-like over the busy orchestral writing.

Well, I think that’s as good a place as any to stop for now. I’d better get on with writing it...

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