The Canadian Music Centre’s Toronto Emerging Composer Award is a bit like a grant as it provides the winning composer with the monetary means to complete a new proposed work. I was the 2011 winner (honorable mention, and some funding also went to Adam Sherkin) and the piece which I pitched to the jury was rather ambitious and somewhat of a leap of faith for me.
The project I proposed was a studio/recording-driven piece which would employ multitracking to create an “ensemble” of orchestral (or larger) proportions. Although orchestral in size, the actual instrumentation would be a good deal more idiosyncratic, using my own rather sizable collection of instruments an other things I could get my hands on.
While the idea sounded great on paper, and I was confident that I could do such a thing, as much of the music I have composed for theatre, film and installations used multitracking to create imaginary ensembles, it proved to be rather difficult to get the project started and to inhabit the soundworld in which I had originally envisioned the piece existing.
Initially I had conceived the work as kind of a tribute piece to the Charles Stepney’s beautiful arrangements on Minnie Riperton’s first solo album Come To My Garden, which has to be one of my all-time favourite albums. I wanted to create something in that spirit, but more abstract, like some sort of psychedelic version of Ravel, using a strange amalgam of orchestral instruments, electric instruments, instruments from around the world, toys and found junk.
This whole idea, however, of paying explicit tribute became somewhat of an obstacle though, and it was only once I loosened the parameters that I actually began to make some serious headway.
So far, what I have begun to create has a distinctly different flavour. While maintaining some of that lushness and sparkle that you hear in Stepney’s work, it also has a certain strange grain, and a certain flatness about it, perhaps this comes from listening to a lot of 1960/70’s British experimental music, as well as other Toronto composers.
Some of the movements I’ve started to generate, have layers of strange interlocking rhythms which iterate stubbornly just slightly slower the tempo you’d hope for. Elsewhere the time is more elastic, with an Ivesian sensibility to the use of layering.
In one passage, I’ve used layered kemence lines played out of sync instead, creating a swarming buzz rather than a tidy, perfect violin section. The thin brittle timbre of its steel strings give it a soft rustic quality that I quite like. I’ve also been using layers of free reed instruments– harmonica, melodica and tuning reeds to create strange wind-sections. Harpsicle, Eastwood Airline Electric Mandola, Hohner Pianet-T (borrowed from John Kameel Farah), thumb pianos, toy pianos and toy glockenspiel have all also been used extensively thusfar.
I’m sure there will be also be passages of stacked-cello pure sentimentality, eruptions of harp glissandi and chiming, and likely a nod to the classic Bollywood combo of strings and slide guitar (best heard in “Mausam Hai Ashiqana” from Pakeezah), but I’m yet sure of the trajectory of the whole piece. In my proposal to the CMC, I said the work would be around 25 minutes, but I have the sense that it could end up as a full-length album…
My goal is to complete the work by the end of the summer, but we shall see! I am however already excited to share the work, as it is quite the departure from my previous recording project on Rife (which came out last year on Entr’acte). There’s very little in the way of electronic processing, save for some EQ, compression, editing, and reverb.
Stayed tuned for more updates, and a perhaps some samples!