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Jenni and Graham on BBC Three Counties Radio on Wednesday 24th May

On Wednesday 24th May, Jenni and Graham Palmer were on BBC Three Counties Radio on Wednesday talking about Cracked Voices and about their call for forgotten people, Your Voice. To listen again head to BBC iPlayer Radio - about 1h44 in.

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The art of the art song - Cracked Voices blog

As part of Cracked Voices, I'll be uploading regular blog posts. Click here to read my post on the art of the art song - a brief introduction into this fantastic form of composition.

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Celestial Utterances (for solo woodwind) on Payhip

Happy new year! In the madness of Christmas I forgot to post about a piece of mine now available on Payhip. Celestial Utterances is a suite of six short pieces for solo upper woodwind instruments (though I suppose it could be solo high anything you fancy playing it on!). Below are a few excerpts I recorded on oboe to give an idea of how the suite sounds. The whole suite of six pieces is available to purchase as a PDF from Payhip.

 

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Flurries (for solo piano) now available on Payhip!

Flurries - a short work for solo piano - is now available on Payhip! Click here to be taken to the product page. Swirls of snow falling, spiralling across the garden. Sudden gusts of wind catch them off guard, causing them to twist and turn, making shapes in their flight path. The fall occasionally grows in strength, becoming more steady and linear. However, these moments in England are few and far between, and the floating, fleeting flurries soon return. Flurries was written in mid 2016 and is approximately three minutes in length.  

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The Shattered Lands: Game theme

I'm never one to shy away from challenges. While the majority of my music nowadays is written for live performance (and thus I avoid sharing computer recordings as much as possible), this one's a bit different! A full orchestra seemed the right forces for this game soundtrack, and this recording is realised in Sibelius. Scored for full orchestra, The Shattered Lands is the sound track for a moba styled game, structured similarly to other themes from this genre. The excerpts contain each of the main themes, and a little from where they entwine towards the end of the soundtrack.

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Results and reflections - Creative Pact 2015

September has come and gone, and so has my Creative Pact 2015! For those who have missed my (somewhat intermittent) posts, I set myself the challenge of scribbling some new music every day for the course of the month. Why? Well, August seemed to be a bit taken up with tidying up scores, redrafting and refining, and the final stages of six separate pieces. After so much work on the tail ends of pieces, I felt the need to be creative again whilst not worrying about the final destination for the music. Lots of snippets and ideas was the aim. The whole idea of a creative pact is to work on a project every day; my working patterns mean that I do normally work every day, but some of these can get swallowed up in engraving, admin or proposals. The scribbles idea would ensure I focused briefly on those initial sparks of creativity each day. Obviously it's hard to categorise some of the scribbles, but a rough count of the scribbles is as follows: 3 scribbles for choir 3 ideas on a treble clef 1 idea that is specifically woodwind based 2 ideas that are lines for bass instruments 2 ideas specifically for violin or viola 13 ideas that have been written on a grand stave (not that they all necessarily need to remain there; some of these are specifically piano, but some may be harp or marimba or similar!). That totals 24 ideas! Some of the days were spent extending ideas from previous days, and some were taken up with the final finishing touches to a commission. Overall I am very pleased. Some of the ideas are only a few bars, and some are a whole page. Either way, I managed to write something new most days which is definitely a success! What's next? Well, this month I need to return to some previous projects for redrafts, and return to my list of commissions and projects. However, I intend to spend time reviewing each of the scribbles from this month and trying to see which I could develop into a longer piece. Tonight, for example, I've spent time on the woodwind idea and on one of the piano ones, which I'm hoping to extend for future piano collection. Creative Pact 2015

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The trials and tribulations of naming pieces

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - Shakespeare Naming pieces is always a tricky area. Some title pieces before they've even written them, others spend ages searching for the perfect short description after they've completed it. Some prefer generic, potentially historical titles, while others go for unique ideas that could reflect one of many things - meaning behind the piece, their mood when they were composing it, or perhaps something completely abstract. It's somewhat simpler if you're using a text or working on music for theatre or media in some form, as you often share titles. Enter stage right a piece I wrote a couple of years ago (but recently revised). A solo piece for keyboard, it had a 7/8 moto perpetuo ostinato in the bass which continued for a significant portion of the A section. To contrast this I stumbled across a calm, reflective idea which became the second section of the piece, providing some moments of quiet before the continuous quavers returned. At the time I was working as an Assistant Organist, and spent quite a bit of time playing around with the ideas on the local church organ (why not?). The madness of the first section, as I played it, reminded me of a tempestuous storm. The second section, in contrast, felt like a still eye of the storm. A few of the people who had heard the piece as it was being developed seemed to like the idea, so the name stuck - Tempestuous. As I like to allow my performers a lot of flexibility, I was very vague in terms of dynamics and tempi. I exchanged a few emails with a variety of people about this piece, and one organist came back to me saying that they felt the title really didn't suit their interpretation. This is a concept that I hadn't previously properly considered. Of course, where freedom and flexibility are allowed and interpretation encouraged, a title pertaining to a particular image may not necessarily suit every version of the piece. What to do? In this case, I was lucky. I could see the performer's frustration, and went back to the original notes where I found Moto Perpetuo was cited as a potential title. With no specific imagery other than lots of movement, this title was ideal. How to avoid this issue in the future however? One option is to use more generic (traditional?) titles such as étude, impromptu, sonata in G and divermentos. I've used a few of these over the years; however mentors and teachers at university and beyond were always complimentary of my titling. Will I change the way I title my pieces? No. Will I be more cautious when applying those with heavy interpretational implications to pieces that could have multiple interpretations? Definitely. And as far as Moto Tempestuous Perpetuo goes? Either title works. Whatever floats your tempestuous perpetual motion boat! Moto Perpetuo will be performed as part of the Moot Hall's lunchtime recital series on Tuesday 28th July at 1pm by organist Ian Ray, alongside a new work by Alan Bullard.

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Shadows and copycats

The second movement of the string quartet is based around a collection of playground games with the same concept: mimickry. Be it following the leader or learning a dance routine, this kind of shadowing routine occurs frequently in the playground. Knowing I wanted a slow yet detailed texture, my initial thoughts were to draw from textures I know well: those of Javanese gamelan. In a number of previous works I've referenced the gamelan's texture and stratification directly, and it felt the right way of creating the right atmosphere for this piece. The piece begins with some gentle, still chords, full of tone clusters in the violins and viola. The three instruments are copying each other rhythmically, but with slight alterations in the notes. The cello then begins with a slow melodic line, weaving in and out of the chords. A leader, heading out alone with the backing of the other followers. After a brief interlude, the cello repeats the melody line, this time joined by the second violin playing a more decorated version of the same - weaving their own personal touch on the melody yet still following the leader. The first violin and viola remain holding the chords, but slightly out of sync with one shadowing the other. A second melodic line then appears, created from the retrograde of the first. Alongside chords and decorated versions, the occasional cello 'gong' note punctuates the texture - but all the while following the shape of the melodic line. The movement continues and builds until all instruments are playing lines directly influenced by the cello's initial melody. Shadows and Copycats is the second movement of my string quartet. Three movements are complete, with the fourth (which makes slight references to the other three) to be completed soon.

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Molecular musical madness - the APO commission

Back in mid July, I was delighted to be announced as the winner of the Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra's Young Composers Award. My vision for the piece was to reflect on the irrevocable changes that climate change is bringing about in all our lives, whether we notice them or not. A theme that is currently dominating my work is that of giving the performer(s) more freedom and consequently trying to ensure they feel a greater sense of ownership over their performance(s) of my music. In the past I've played around with giving much more freedom in terms of dynamics and articulation, and in the case of the marimba piece Summer Rain, in allowing the performer to decide which order to perform the piece in. However, this becomes trickier when large ensembles are the order of the day. With the Quangle Wangle Choir, I was able to meet up with them and to collaborate on key parts of the piece. With the Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra (APO), circumstances dictated that I was unable to meet up with them so I needed to allow the orchestral members to put their stamp on the piece in a different way. I'm not sure what most people's thoughts are when they think of climate change, but I'm immediately taken back to A level chemistry lessons where we discussed it at length. In particular, the individual molecules' effect on global warming came to mind. As these are where the story of climate change begins, it made sense to me for it to be where the piece began. To create the random, chaotic, entropic effects of an atmosphere full of molecules, I decided that the first section of the piece would rely heavily on the contemporary technique of independent repetition. I gave individual instruments ‘musical’ molecules, which they are allowed to repeat as many times as they like and at any tempi within a given period of time. This fulfils the aim to give performers more freedom, whilst ensuring each performance is different and still reflecting the element in mind (the atmosphere). The concentration of the periods of independent repetition begins by reflecting the pre-1750 tropospheric concentrations of the molecules in question, and by the end of the section the current atmospheric concentrations are reflected.   Forming the molecules Using too many different musical molecules would render the piece incoherent – particularly as I wanted to ensure each molecule featured throughout the piece, whilst also extending their themes in the second section. I therefore concentrated on four atmospheric molecules that play a key role in climate change. I won’t go into detail about each molecule used, but to demonstrate the method I used, here's carbon dioxide:CO2 When forming the musical representation of this molecule, I began with the carbon atom in the middle, and assigned it the note C (for carbon - why not!). As each oxygen atom has six electrons in its outer electron shell, I decided to make the oxygen notes the interval of a sixth away from the carbon molecule - the A above, and E below. Finally, I decided to repeat each note twice - the carbon to represent the two electrons it shares (on each side) with oxygen atoms, and the oxygen atoms to represent the two each shares with carbon. Each molecule can then be transposed to anywhere on the stave throughout the atmospheric section of the piece. With regard to carbon dioxide, as it plays such an important role, I also added a more decorated version of the molecule.   To compile, this section was a bit of a logic puzzle - I had a harmonic template and a selection of chords (formed from each individual molecule's notes), which I then attempted to slot together to create the final atmosphere. As the first section of the piece progresses, the effects of climate change - a rising overall temperature - can begin to be heard through a very slow theme in the lower strings, which repeats and rising, rising through the stringed instruments, until it reaches a peak.   The second section After focusing on the atmosphere, I wanted to touch upon the causes that had created the atmospheric makeup we have today. Each molecule involved has specific processes that have caused the atmosphere to change significantly and climate change to occur, all of which are a result of man's effect on the environment (industry, agriculture, technology etc.). In this section, many of the molecules develop a slightly extended theme reflecting the industries that are causing them to rise in concentration. These themes combine with the original molecular motifs to create a mechanical, repetitive driving force, gaining in momentum and power as the temperature continues to rise.   The final section The final section of the piece takes a sudden turn. Instead of revolving around the musical molecules the focus switches to concentrate on green technologies, with suspended, beating notes representing the beams of sun shining down on the Earth and by extension the role nature plays (and should be playing) in creating greener technologies that can aid in slowing the effects of climate change. This section is considerably more positive than the two that precede it, despite its inclusion of the first section's molecules, and a transformed rising temperature theme, reflecting the fact that our positive changes have potentially slowed the temperature rises, but that they are still occurring, and there is still more work for us to do. I'm really looking forward to hearing how the piece develops as the APO rehearse and get to know it. Writing a piece including such a technique is quite bizarre - in this case I formed chords from molecules, and slotted them alongside a harmonic landscape - but of course, there's no way of telling precisely which notes will be heard simultaneously. The piece will change with every rehearsal and performance, which is incredibly exciting!  

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Quangle Quadrille recorded by BBC Radio 3

Last night was the official premiere of Quangle Quadrille at the Quangle Wangle Choir's concert at Weymouth Bay Methodist Church. A lovely venue for a wonderful concert. The whole programme, including readings, small group performances and full choir numbers was framed around the topics of birds and nature - topics that the Quangles themselves chose for our Adopt a Composer collaboration. BBC Radio 3 recorded the whole event, as well as interviewing a group of us (including Juliet and choir members). The recording of Quangle Quadrille will be broadcast at some point in the new year!  For photos of the event please see either my Facebook page, or the Quangle Wangle Choir's Facebook page. I'd like to thank the entire team behind Adopt a Composer, including Sound and Music, Making Music (and Ben who joined us on Saturday!), PRS Foundation, BBC Radio 3 (Tony and Phil in particular) and my mentor Colin Riley for helping support me throughout the project.  Most importantly, I'd like to thank the Quangle Wangles - and particular their musical director Juliet Harwood - for the hours of dedicated workshopping and practicing they put in in order to make our collaboration such a success.

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