Bowhead #1: The Catch Up

(This post is longer, due to it catching up on multiple weeks)

Ironically the first post is the catch up post… but I suppose the phrase goes, “start as you mean to go on.” So the rest, if they ever happen will likely be the same. Anyway…

Writing has been underway for a while now, but it was only yesterday and today that things started to feel that they began to fall into place, both compositionally and logistically at least. This turn of events soothed the near breakdown I had at the end of last week… but as the phrase goes “start as you mean to go on.” And what kind of composer would I be, if I wasn’t a stones throw away from insanity.

Having spent multiple weeks trying to put together an ensemble to record and gain areas to carry out that recording I have been finishing off other pieces of work allowing me to “dabble” in the break/rest periods with these film scores. In these periods I would often play/improvise at the piano, as best my abilities allow, writing down multiple ideas, whether they be for this, a video-game score or a concert work.

In the periods that I would improvise ideas for the films I would often be working to my memory of the film imagery as opposed to the actual images themselves. So, for instance, I would picture the imagery of the whale, the way it moves and it’s scenario and/or recall various narrative points. For instance, the second film Duetto has three distinct parts. There is the reveal, the search and the partner, all of which the whale is present. Furthermore, whales have a steady but deliberate and controlled motion as they swim, these images all factored into the improvisations.

For this film I began with the idea of the middle section, the search, where the whale is searching for a mate. I wanted the music to highlight this natural yearning in a manner that we as film watchers understand love and yearning in filmscores. This is the idea I originally sketched at the piano, though it was always going to have to be the Cello that plays it. Always.

Original Thematic Idea, as written in abandoned score. (1’09” in extract)
I have enclosed a noteperformer rendition of the full score sketch at the bottom of this post.

Therefore this theme captures both of these ideas through it’s use of the minor-2nd (yearning) and major-6th (love). Though the love aspect isn’t highlighted in it’s true form, instead appearing as the span of the melody as opposed to an outright intervallic leap.

While writing this I also came up with the opening melodic idea, which is loosely linked to theme-1. This is shown below.

Second Theme, as written in abandoned score. (very beginning of extract)

These two are linked via their use of the minor second and the use of the glissando on this interval.

Furthermore, if we look at them in terms of “modal/scale colour” it is possible to find see further connections. Both, with the minor-2nd hint towards the same modal mixtures. Below I have added melody 1 again as the original piano sketch, which outlines two altered notes A-nat/A-flat and D-nat/D-flat (the D-flat only being present in the harmony). It’s possible to view these mixtures as F-Ionian (A-nat), F-aeolian (A-flat & D-flat) F-Dorian (A-flat & D-nat). One could also see a similar mixture with B-flat Ionian (D-nat) and Dorian (D-flat & the earlier G-nat), with the F and C acting as a dominant pedal.

Perhaps the reason this modal mixture seemed so effective to me in relation to this idea of yearning could possibly be from the simple happy & sad, major/ionian & minor/aeolian dichotomy that is so often taught to young school children so as to help them distinguish the two fundamental types of scale. Who knows?

Harmonic context, theme 1, abandoned score

In the opening melody the idea of B-flat dorian is hinted at. If you view the F-sharp as a G-flat then this could potentially foreshadow the mixing of Aeolian and Dorian with the natural-6 and then the flat-6. I’ll argue it as deliberate… as it makes me look clevererer.

Having highlighted these sketches though (an example of the first sketch as a fuller score is given below), the project has taken a sharp turn. As suggested my compositional process typically revolves around theme, logistically this (as kindly/rightly suggested by my PhD supervisor) is a recipe for failure. The ensemble I have formed (Hullywood Scratch Orchestra (HSO)) is a new one off group made up of University of Hull students, which will have limited rehearsal and recording time. Meaning the music must accommodate this factor, allowing the highest possible production quality. Therefore the music is much less based around obvious themes and is now focussed more on texture.

Opening Section Sketch of Abandoned Duetto Score


Having said this, the thematic material is likely to still feature within this change of strategy. Below are new sketches. The top being a sketch of the structures for the three films (only the first is fully mapped out). The second is a more detailed sketch that is being put together for the first film.

Map/plan of the three scores (apologies for the quality, no scanner…)
2016-11-08 18.25.31.jpg
Working Sketch of Candenza Score (apologies again for quality)

The three films will centre around tonal areas highlighted by the second theme highlighted earlier. Candenza: F-sharp, Duetto: G and Coda: B-flat. Furthermore, the pitch set of this (3-3) highlights some important points in the film, much like Elliott Carter used pitch sets in his string quartets. I also hope to maintain the original theme too, as it’s grown on me…. I guess we’ll see what happens.

NotePerformer Rendition: Forgive it’s sketchiness, this was a WIP before being abandoned. Also try not to laugh too hard at it’s attempts at glissandi.


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