The Beginning of the Finish

Alina took this photo of me walking down towards James. who was setting up a group photo

Alina took this photo of me walking down towards James. who was setting up a group photo

What a week.

Bundanon went extraordinarily well. I didn't update you on the last day yet, and I'll do so now.

I only had Alina, Dan and James at the last session of our residency. It was ok, as Anna was fully aware of the content we were using (it actually had originated from her to begin with!), along with the techniques we were employing (which we'd workshopped together, and I'd discovered the degree of comfort / discomfort over the previous sessions).

I had 2 hours to come up with an 8 minute score.

... for an improviser, this is not hard to be honest. It can take 8 minutes to simultaneously come up with and perform an 8 minute score, so I wasn't so perturbed. However, in this context, the only really comfortable improviser in the quartet was Dan, and I had to make sure that everyone was able to participate in this work and process, not just he and I.

During my run around the paddock earlier in the morning my mind was churning over the creative problem I'd set myself up with... compose the work in full today in a way that expresses the meaning of the text and exploits the talents (and tech) available to me for this project. I mentally went through all the exercises we'd done that week, remembered that everyone really enjoyed flocking. Yes, flocking had to be in there. Considering this was an 8 min work and the beginning was already about 3 mins, there wasn't really that much time left... I'd have to extend it to 10 mins...

Coming back to the cottage, I was all sweaty and puffed, and covered in these bloody grass seeds that stick to your clothes despite going through the wash, I heard James' alarm going off in his room as I entered the front door. EUREKA! that was the piece. The whole thing flashed though my mind.

James and I enjoying the conversation

James and I enjoying the conversation

The night before James said he'd been doing some research on the text and found that the line in the text bothering us the most "You raise the blade, you make the change, you re-arrange me 'till I'm sane" was actually about lobotomisation, not suicide. It was about becoming brain dead. Being brain dead must be a lot like sleep, I thought, and I don't want my piece about becoming and remaining brain dead - yeah sure I'm willing to go there - Yes let's get brain dead in our work (I know how to do that (my mind flashed 1000 scenarios on how to abstractify through sound and movement the raise of a blade and rearrangement of a frontal cortex)) but Let's Wake Up from our physical depiction of brain-deadness to then depict a way we're all socially brain-dead through the use of what little tech is available to me - everyone's mobiles. 

Now originally in the beginning of the work, I got the performers to enter the stage carrying a candle, and replace an instrument with a candle in the middle. We slightly changed it in the new version in that the candles will already be in the centre, with the instruments, and they'll use their phones to light the way instead. 

Before I got into the workshop, I divided the text up into 4 parts of disembodied words (we did stream of consciousness word calling and sentence making in the last session). I would use these to create voices in a collective head that made sense when put together but no sense when played back separately. We'll use our phones at the end of the piece as playback devises of the last bit of the material and simply give the performers movement (/stillness) to perform. We needed to depict some sort of a collapse prior to "raising the blade" and being in a lobotomised state - so I decided to use a compositional devise that I'd used in my work "Quintessential" but have Dan as the protagonist improvise it - that is, a melody picks up characteristics of things that are played at it - with a difference in that he's physically trapped between the other 3 musicians. So Dan's noodling along at this melody trying to wander out of the "trap" when suddenly Anna will Chunk Chunk Chunk droooooooone squibble squibble blerch at him (ok, if only Squarespace had a music score plug in, then I'd write it out, but there again, maybe you don't read music... hmmm...), then Dan will have to take up characteristic of Anna's Chunk Chunk (etc) motif in the noodling he's doing on his violin, as he turns to find another way out of the trap that Anna, Alina and James have crated for him (and are slowly tightening him in). Every time one of the trio gives Dan a new motif, they take a step closer to him... eventually rendering him immobile. At which point he has a collapse. The blade is raised, as it were - and he will be rearranged. (I'm thinking I might go literal here, because it'll be so abstract and cool to see 3 psycho musos raise huge blades over Dan whilst he is going through a musical psychotic episode and descending to the ground). When he's there, his melody (and voice... I want to give him some vocals, like howling), becomes a whimper and the others lower their knives and join him on the floor.

From there they'll do a lobotomised flock - both physically and musically. They flock to eventually being able to walk around, zombie like, playing, their instruments... and eventually find themselves on the floor giving only the slightest piano pianissimo molto sul ponticello al talone sotto atmospheric sounds quivering from their instruments (and synchronised breathing). 

The audience assumes this is the end of the piece. Some will awkwardly clap but nothing will happen... until THE WAKE UP ALARM GOES OFF ON ONE OF THE MUSICIAN'S MOBILES! Quite alarming, considering I'd have made a big fuss at the beginning of the piece about audiences turning off their phones.

So the musicians look confused and annoyed, and sheepishly hand their instrument to a nearby audience member each (can you just hold this for a sec, I'll be right back). The musicians come into the centre the offending alarm is turned off, and (choreographed) they each turn on a sound file that I'd loaded onto their mobiles of each playing a part and saying their part of the text. The phones are placed in glasses pointing in different directions (analogue way of getting multi-directional) and one by one the musicians leave the stage, simply leaving the audience to enjoy the recording from the phones (which is extremely exquisitely tiresomely tear-jerking). 

The end. 

A little boat in what I'm sure is often a body of water, just not at this point. 

A little boat in what I'm sure is often a body of water, just not at this point. 

I think my hypo-manic condition that comes from being a little bi-polar comes in handy when I reflect on the way ideas come to me all at once and so quickly. All solutions, all the detail was at the forefront of my mind. Figuring out how to write it down, communicate it and practise it were the next steps. 

When we got into the studio we started by mapping out the stage - we knew the beginning, we were really happy with it, so the beginning actually defined how the stage and indeed the whole physical and movement narrative would be set. I then explained there were 4 parts to the work, and presented a summary of the script / choreography to everyone. They loved it, and we started going through the moves, writing down solutions to problems as we went. 

By the end of the 2 hours we'd basically resolved that I'd write down all the motifs, but they were happy to improvise the "game" parts of it (i.e the stylistic appropriation game and the flocking/imitation game). They'd need me to properly sore the beginning (which is a very simple slow oscillation of a tone with a crescendo at the end, and maybe a timbral modulation somewhere in there (by that I mean going from normale bowing to sul pont gradually), as well as the recorded bit at the end (the tear jerking music that underpins the spoken text).

And that'd be a wrap.

Sounds good to me.

I went off back to my cottage... and finished and submitted two grant applications before setting in to complete another work that I'd been commissioned (but was overdue on submitting) - "Out of the Deep". the Song Company's commission, which I'm going to talk about the process of in another blog because this one is too big already!

The "Single Man's Cottage" at Bundanon

The "Single Man's Cottage" at Bundanon

Andrew Batt-Rawden

Performance artist and composer. I have a background in music composition, festival direction, media publishing, some uni teaching here and there as well as performance art. I make websites for various projects that I'm involved with.