the clouds flew round with the clouds

Last night a fairly recent work the clouds flew round with the clouds was broadcast on Late Junction. This is one of my favourite radio programmes and it has always been a bit of an ambition to have music on the programme. It will be available on iplayer for a week and you can find it here. I thought I’d write a few words about the piece.

The title of this piece comes from a favourite Wallace Stevens poem The Pleasures of Merely Circulating. As I have made/am making a whole series of pieces that are simple repeating melodies this short poem has been in my mind for a while:

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating
Wallace Stevens

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the cloud.
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?

Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish.
Yet that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.

I have borrowed features from this poem for my own piece. When I read this I take pleasure in the poem transforming throughout while simultaneously the first and last stanza having more in common than the middle. My piece is made up of two layers. There is a soundtrack which is made up of the manipulation of the first two bars of Lívia Rév’s Hyperion (many thanks to Hyperion for allowing me to use this sample) recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major Op.62 No.1. These first two bars are repeated a number of times in quick succession to simulate a delay effect. There are two processes at work on this short piano sample. The first is a very idiosyncratic reverb which gradually increases towards the middle of the piece then gradually recedes. The second is a sequence of re-tunings and transpositions, different for each repetition, which continue throughout the entire work.

On top of that are three distinct sections for cello. Firstly a simply line repeats and, each time it repeats, lengthens. The middle section is a longer melody now with more double stopping from the cello, which, with each repetition, gradually shortens. Finally there is a melody that is embedded in four note chords (played with a curved ‘polyphonic’ bow). The distinctiveness of the cello sound in this piece is helped with a fairly extreme scordatura  including the C string being tuned down a seventh.

prah-logo-1I wrote the piece for Olly Coates’ 30th birthday as a gift and I really grateful he has played it and played it so beautifully. He has also included it on a forthcoming release from new imprint PRAH. There is and will be more information on that here.

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