Wednesday, August 17, 2005

the invention of sound, kerry style

august 17th

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: ooo! Quite a lot!
Hair day: bit woo, bit waaay

Am amidst a week’s work as an assistant composer on spnm’s Sound Inventors residency, whilst working deep into the night waxing lyrical about my last 5 years work for my PhD write-up…

Whilst we’re based at Epsom College, a undulatingly-lawned mecca of posho education (cricket pavilion? colt field? 3 farms? indoor rifle range? I ask you!) in deepest Surrey, the kids have come from far and wide, all in the name of spending a week working with professional players and coming up with a finished opus to take away on CD. I’m working with the head honcho and droll genius-teacher/composer Alisdair Nicholson with the top group, a motley selection of teenagers; these include several wan, flaxen-haired boys who look like they’d capsize if you as much as breathed on them, some ├╝ber-confident choral scholar types who like to invent composite words such as ‘chordality’ in order to sound brainy and super-eyelinered girls who like to flirt with any male within firing range. But to a fault they’re all studious, musically literate and rather lovely to tutor.

It initially felt all very 1st-year-at-uni, what with being deposited in our spartan single-bedded rooms, attempting to make friends in that slightly panicked way, and being fed shedloads of stodge every meal time. There are about some very hardened professional musicians here, all indefatigable players but they all make me feel very studenty and idiotically young ... still, have been happy to paint the town red (ok, a mild shade of dusky pink) with the younger, funkier types, experiencing the chavvy delights of Epsom pubs, which included an al fresco blow job in the adjacent garden (cheered on by punters) and a lady drunkenly toasting her upcomnig divorce and showed off her arm-long tattoo: a phoenix rising from the ashes of her wedding bouquet with the name of her dog*, lost in the separation, inscripted at the bottom. Tasty.

Had a trial by fire yesterday having pluckily agreed to deliver a 5-10-minute vocal exercise in the whole school’s singing session – after hurriedly making something up the day before, I had to get up in front of 100 kids and 20 professional players and get them to improvise a vocal soundworld based on the phonetic breakdown of their first names. Agh! Heck, guess it went ok, and I’m proud that I was able to bounce about with confidence with all these faces looking rather quizzically at me, but the actual product was a slightly turgid mess and I’m left feeling that I either semi-pulled off an inventive vocal coup or made a complete arse of myself. Who knows….

However, also had a very good play of my hastily-composed piece for the awkward, potentially dirgy ensemble of oboe, bassoon, horn, viola and double bass; had a slightly frosty rehearsal two weeks ago but a much more successful reading today, revealing me not only to be (as we all know) a vocal composer of some genius but also a nifty orchestrator with a line in well-controlled, richly-timbred chamber music. Hurrah! (exit stage left, blowing own trumpet...)

* the dog's name was Spud. Touch of class.

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