Thursday, 24 May 2012

5...4...3...2...1....We're ready for lift off....

Rehearsals have been continuing for our performance this week.

Different Trains has proved quite a challenge for a number of reasons.  The piece uses three pre-recorded string quartets on a backing CD alongside the live quartet. Rehearsing it requires that we have an adequate sound system as being able to hear the intricacies of the backing track are essential if we are to fit our individual parts in correctly. Our biggest problem seems to have been the page turns!  The parts have very few rests, so no option for the usual photocopy of the odd page to aid a turn – we find ourselves having to turn the page, count bars rest whilst trying to pick up a new pulse all at the same time.  We are feeling pretty confident now, just looking forward to getting into the auditorium on Saturday to rehearse with the equipment we will be using and getting used to the different equipment and acoustic.  It’s a fantastic piece and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know it.

We’re meeting with Paul Whitty this week to rehearse his piece again. He has been down in Devon recording Jackie Oates singing some folk songs which will feature strongly in the piece, and he and Emma also spent another rainy day in Thorverton recording more Devon earth sounds. 

Simon Belshaw’s piece, Between the Moon and the Earth, is the more straightforward of the three pieces for the players.  Similarly to the Reich, we have to fit our parts around the backing track, but the slower pace of the music gives us more time to collect our thoughts.  The combination of the amazing film footage of the Apollo astronauts and the beautiful harmonies in Simon’s music are what makes the piece so mesmerising.  We’re looking forward to playing this during the Family Sunday afternoon on the 27th – children can’t fail to be enthralled by the images projected up on a big screen in the auditorium. 

This project has been in the planning since last summer – it’s hard to believe we’re finally approaching our first performance.  We’re all very excited and looking forward to  Sunday………   Hope to see you there!        JH

Monday, 21 May 2012

About Between the Moon and the Earth

This piece was composed between 1999 and 2001 and first performed in 2001. 

I have for a long time been fascinated by the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 70s,  I recall being 9 years old when the moon landing happened and being transfixed by it as I lay in hospital having just had my tonsils removed. 1999 was the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing and this re-ignited my fascination, providing the inspiration for the piece.

I have always been interested in processes, systems, references, numbers, patterns and symmetry in music and there are examples of all these elements in this piece. When I composed it I was particularly interested in two compositional ideas. One was the contrast between the linear and the multiple or the constant and the random. This is evident in the linear chord progression that underpins, and provides the pulse for, the piece contrasting with the floating, slightly disconnected strings and piano that play over it. The second technique that I was developing was the practice of disruptive systems (partially inspired by the concern over the millennium bug which was prevalent at this time). One of the ways that I achieved this was by setting up a sequence of regular rhythms and bar lengths and then either extending individual bars or holding notes to disrupt the regularity, both of these techniques can be heard in this work.

There are also a number of processes that occur in the piece. One example is the textural process that runs through the opening few minutes. The strings are gradually transformed from playing a percussive, col legno style (a reference to Holst's The Planets) to an expressive arco. The process is a gradual one, all instruments begin playing col legno and all end playing arco but they are changed slowly, one at a time, from col legno through pizzicato to arco. Working in parallel with this is the opening out of the range of the musical material which, when the piece begins, is compressed into a narrow area that is gradually expanded until the point at which all the strings are playing arco. 

Of course, the music is only one element of this work and the astronauts' words and film are equally, if not more, important. Both the film and speech is from the Apollo 8 mission which was the first to circle the moon and therefore the first to look back on the earth as a small, distant planet. The astronauts describe in detail both the beauty of the earth and the desolation of the moon. This piece is not about the journey to the moon and back but is about the idea of being in the middle, of floating in space, of seeing both the moon and the earth but not belonging to either. 

Simon Belshaw

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Space Bug Ball

Just over a week to go until our world premiere performance of 'Back there on Earth' at Exeter Phoenix and we're excited to be involved in the Family Sunday event before our gig. There'll be an art drop in where kids can create their own space bug and rocket costume, as well as a sneak preview performance of 'Between the Moon and the Earth' at 3.30pm. To find out more and book tickets for our evening performance click here.

Back there on Earth is a set of three ground breaking classical contemporary pieces featuring live music, recorded sound and film footage.

Exeter Contemporary Sounds

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Paul Whitty on Phonic FM

We've had a great write-up on the Phonic FM website... 'Back There on Earth has been created to spark imagination and curiosity, and to encourage individuals to examine their own relationship to the moon and the earth.' Click here to read the whole article.

Paul Whitty will be interviewed about his new piece for Back there on Earth on Stuart Crewe's Downstream show on Phonic FM on the 13th May. Paul's piece 'Bury my love like treasure' focus's on Devon's red earth and incorporates recordings from the earth, Devon folk songs and live collaborative music from Exeter Contemporary Sounds. Paul will be doing some recording with singer Jackie Oates to develop the piece, which he'll be talking about during his interview. You'll be able to listen to the interview live on the Phonic FM website or tune in to 106.8.

If you haven't got your tickets for Back there on Earth yet you can buy them here for Exeter (27th May) and here for Barnstaple (7th June).