River going fast, banging, stepping stones, twigs, tapping, car, birds, bang, water, metal kicking the can, river, fall, ripping grass, stone, kicking, water wave, branch, rattlebranch, rubbing, birds sound, river flowing, rocks, cars, banging on thing, kicking the boat, heels tapping…
These are just some of the sounds recorded by students from three Birmingham Schools during the workshops connected to the composition of my new piece for BCMG. (Mr Evans) It’s Starting To Rain… in fact the piece is entirely created from sounds collected in workshops at Highters Heath (where the title comes from), Springfield and Regents Park primary schools.
In the workshops we went out on recording trips to capture some of the unique sounds of Birmingham and to use them in pieces for laptop orchestras with instrumental contributions from BCMG musicians Elaine Ackers and Ulrich Heinen and BCMG Learning Trainee Ruta Vitkauskaite. A process of listening to the everyday sounds captured using simple portable recording technology reveals a hidden world of almost impossible to notate rhythms and pitches which I have used in the piece for the family concert.
Often workshop projects are reflective of work that has been in existence for a while (sometimes well established pieces of the repertoire) what has been unique about this project is that I have had the opportunity to compose a new piece for BCMG alongside the work in schools. A result of this is that when the young people come to hear the piece they will be able to recognise things that they themselves collected, and to hear how these have been transformed electronically and by being converted into instrumental music.
The piece I have been making is very much about a way of listening, it is designed to be the first piece in the concert and starts with the sounds of the outside played inside the hall. I’m often struck by the experience of arriving at a performance where my body has arrived but my mind is often still a part of the rush to catch the train, to make phone calls, do the shopping , all the things of the rest of life. In starting by having your ears effectively ‘outside’ while your body is in, it hopefully gives a kind of pause, a breathing space where the various bits of you are allowed a moment to catch up, to get back in sync ready to listen.
Listening was a big part of the workshop session, listening to sounds, finding ways of describing them, in words, in drawings and noticing small differences between similar ones. From this I have chosen a selection of distinctive recordings that the three musicians will play in response to hearing the source sound, a kind of sonic reflection in an instrumental form of the sounds of Birmingham. A squeaky door becomes a trombone glissando, a car driving past is mirrored in a cello phrase and the sound of running a stick along metal railings (the urge to make this sound seems to be there regardless of our age) becomes a frantic chaotic oboe music…… and so on until the separate units come together in a single immersive sound where it is hard to tell the recorded from the live, the original from the transformed.
At a time when so many music organisations are ‘playing safe’ in order to survive the current economic climate it is encouraging to see BCMG continuing to invest energy in innovative and original work. Connecting the young people we have worked with a new piece is a wonderful way of showing how everyday sounds can become the doorway to extraordinary musical experiences.
To quote John Cage:
“Beauty is now underfoot, wherever we take the trouble to look.”