Trying to translate


Duration 15 minutes, composed 1992 (revised electronics, 2014), for piano, live electronics and digital sound.

Score

Please contact me if you’d like more information on performance materials — the latest version uses puredata software (open source) and the patch is more-or-less automated

In Trying to translate I treat the distinction between a recorded sound world and the live piano performance as a metaphor for translation more generally.

Much of the recorded source material comes from a radio documentary in which a female speaker describes the problems of translating from Gaelic to English and how translation affects meaning, vocabulary and ‘takes away from the magic of the sounds’. In the course of this discussion, she describes the decline of Gaelic music since the 1950s ‘with the advent of television’, and in particular Gaelic heterophony, where congregations sing ornate renditions of psalm and hymn tunes, each person singing at their own speed. I was struck by both the beauty of the speaker’s voice and the emotion behind her meaning; I share her sorrow that old ways of making music about, and for, everyday life have disappeared or faded from general use, and also have a particular fondness for the glorious, but intimate, sound of Gaelic psalm singing, which appears in the fixed sound part and — transcribed and ‘translated’ — forms the basis of the piano writing.

Trying to translate was commissioned by the Mead/Montague duo, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was first performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1991.The speech is from a BBC Radio 3 Soundings documentary, and is used by kind permission of the BBC (I don’t know the identity of the speaker). Trying to translate is recorded on Transparent things (Metier), music by Katharine Norman performed by Philip Mead

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Two Thumbs Up (July 15th, 1978)

solo piano, 3 minutes – 2005.


(Clive Williamson)
Composed to be played with thumbs only, a baroque suite in miniature based on Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

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Programme notes (to be read at performance):

a one-minute true story…(remembering to inhale)…so me and linda cadge a lift to bob dylan’s gig in ‘78 from our stoned english teacher and very pregnant wife who realise they forgot their tickets when we reach guildford so me and linda get out and stick up our thumbs to hitch – festooned in beads and indian print – hoping for hunky hippies in a vw camper van but getting a nice clean st john ambulance man in a mini who took us all the way to where we sat down with 250,000 people and were just preparing to ‘inhale deeply’ when we saw my little sister sitting 10 feet away – it sometimes seems like life is mostly thumbs.

Composed for Clive Williamson to play at the 2005 Guildford International Music Festival—(sorry, Clive!). Full-quality recording released on Cadenza, as is a score of the whole collection.

Transparent things

Solo piano, 1996.

(Philip Mead, piano)
Score

Transparent things, through which the past shines!
Man-made objects, or natural ones, inert in themselves but much used by careless life (you are thinking, and quite rightly so, of a hillside stone over which a multitude of small animals have scurried in the course of incalculable seasons) are particularly difficult to keep in surface focus: novices fall through the surface, humming happily to themselves, and are soon reveling with childish abandon in the story of this stone, of that heath
Vladimir Nabokov

The pieces can be performed as a set (keeping the order below) or individually/in pairs, as the pianist prefers.

  • Cold Light, 6.a.m.
  • Still, Clear (for VRM)
  • Frozen Edge
  • Long Causeway

Commissioned for Stephen Gutman, with funds provided by a Holst Award.

Duration approx. 16 minutes (whole set).

The four pieces which make up Transparent things each explore notions of transparency: the idea of looking through a surface in search of something less tangible, and more resonant. They were inspired by both the above quotation and my long walks on and around Stanage Edge, in the Peak District, Derbyshire (UK). Although the individual pieces came from memories of specific times and places, they are not overtly programmatic. Perhaps I was seeking a musical analogy for that growing clarity of mind than can arise during a solitary walk, when there is time to reflect, to remember and to get thoughts and dreams into focus.

This piece is recorded by Philip Mead on CD (Transparent things)

Fuga Interna (suspend)

Piano, 2010.

Fuga Interna (begin) is the fifth piece in a series for piano, Fuga Interna, and was first performed by Philip Mead.

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All the works in the Fuga Interna series are inspired by my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Like all the pieces in the series, this Fuga Interna (begin includes brief references to any that came before, though it is not necessary to know this to appreciate the work, nor to perform the works in order. This Bach fugue is a constant companion in all my compositional endeavours, and has been for some thirty years.

Making Place

Making Place

Here, setting out alone,
feet heavy in the clay,
travel seems a blind cacophony
replete with ancient allegories.
read full text

Scroll down to download materials and for more info.

 

Making Place is a poetic exploration of place, and place making, for one or two performers and live interactive processing of animation, text and audio. It can be performed by any instrument capable of realising a version of the semi-improvisatory score.

click to: DOWNLOAD MATERIALS AND INFO (Macapp, score etc).Please feel free to experiment – or get in touch.

Everything you need is at this download link. As of 2016 the performer uses the score in conjunction with a mac app (OSX) that can be preloaded with the performer’s choice of field recordings and images. You are encouraged to incorporate your own images and recorded sounds.There are currently score versions for piano solo, piano duo, violin solo, violin and ‘cello, and ‘cello solo, but almost any pitched instrument could interpret the score.

Making Place was commissioned by Kate Halsall with funds from the Arts Council of England and the Britten Pears Foundation. First performance, Sonorities festival, Belfast, April 2013 (one piano version).Other performances Falmouth University, Cornwall, May 2013 (two pianos – Kate Halsall, Fumiko Miyachi), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Kate Halsall), New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2015 (violin, Maja Cerar), International Computer Music Conference Athens, ZKM Karlsruhe (piano, Sebastian Berweck), Mannes College, New School NYC (piano, Daniel Schreiner).

High Force

for piano solo, 1988.


Score (scan of hard copy – 24 MB download)

The piece was originally written for pianist (and physicist) Steven Neugarten, who said ‘why not write a piece about turbulence?’ and got my particular interpretation of the idea, a virtuoso piece that proceeds from bottom to top of the piano, becoming more and more complex, with a structure based on a quite rigorous use of Fibonacci principles. The piece was first performed by Steven as a finalist in the British Contemporary Piano Competition. This recording is from Philip Mead, who set up the same competition.

High Force is a waterfall in County Durham, surrounded by impressive pine trees and dark rock walls that have an almost cathedral-like presence. The water falls headlong for about 70 feet, landing in a surging pool, coloured by the surrounding peat and granite. Watching it, I was mesmerised by the great mass of water which seems at once changeless and constantly changing. After staring for a while the granite and the water seem to merge as one. In this piece I sought to capture that feeling of relentlessness and turbulent motion, and the erosion of one, apparently unyielding, element by another, more fluid idea.

Recorded by Philip Mead on Transparent things.

Thescore was computer set by Barnes Music Engraving, to use as an example of their work. I remain extremely grateful to this day that they were so kind as to do this for one penniless young-ish composer. But the amazing quality of their work is its own recommendation.

Fuga Interna (begin)

Piano and fixed sound, 2011.

Fuga Interna (begin) is the sixth piece in a series for piano, Fuga Interna, and the first to include a digital part, which also includes a text by myself. The work is about listening, learning to play the piano, my mother, age and memory. The digital part contains a transformed version of the first piece in the series, Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities), performed by Philip Mead – who, by a nice coincidence, at one time taught Xenia Pestova, for whom this piece was written. Please contact me if you’d like the digital part sent to you. You can download the score below.

beginpic
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She said…
Put your hand here, beside mine
Where the black key meets the white
(She said…)
Lift your finger — that’s right
Now, down again
Here
…and listen.
A simple act of causality.
The first notes begin.

One day you will look down at your hand
and see your mother’s,
underneath the surface.

The way the skin has creased into old age,
The way the knuckles have thickened,
The way the fingers move and stretch,
The way things fall.

She forgets things now.
I place my hand beside hers
To steady her in the fog where life is no longer black or white
Her small hand against mine…

She says…
I play the piano, sometimes — I sing, sometimes
I still know the old songs.
(She says…)

She is losing herself gradually — in parts
Things no longer follow one after the other
There is less and less to remember.
The last notes begin.

This is the last (to date) of a series of Fuga Interna pieces for piano. All the works in the Fuga Interna series are inspired by my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Like all the pieces in the series, Fuga Interna (begin) includes brief references to those of the set that came before, though it is not necessary to know this to appreciate the work, nor to perform the works in order. The Bach fugue is a constant companion in all my compositional endeavours, and has been for many years.

Fuga Interna (ascent)

Solo piano, 2000.

Fuga Interna (ascent), composed in 2000 for performance by Philip Mead at the British Music Information Centre, London as part of a concert of my solo piano work.

ascentpic
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This is one in a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, , started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent.

This is one in a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, Fuga Interna, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent

Fuga Interna (turn and run)

Solo piano, 2003.

No recording just yet for this one yet, sorry.

turn
Download score

This is one of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening listening.

The way in which the Bach piece is referred to is often inaudible, or not clear, but the methods are often quite rigorous, even if the connections are rarely overtly discernible. Fuga Interna (turn and run) was originally composed for Andrew Zolinsky, and obsesses on a particular figure that is characterized by a final ‘turn’.

Fuga Interna (thirds)

Solo piano, 2000.

 

Fuga Interna (thirds), composed in 2000 for performance by Clive Williamson at The Warehouse, London, as part of the Cutting Edge series.

thirdspic
Download score

This is one of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent

Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities)

Solo piano, 1997.
Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities), composed for performance by Stephen Gutman at the Purcell Room, London as part of The Debussy Studies Project, which I helped to organise.

opposedpic
Download score

This is the first of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano. Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The ways in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although not necessarily audibly apparent.