Juliette

 

Playing the harp was always a secret childhood dream of mine, like riding horses. Both were prohibitively expensive (I grew up in NW London, when horse riding was realistically accessible only to the upper- and upper-middle classes). I never voiced the desire to do either to my parents, because a child knows when not to push their luck. When I was eleven my parents bought me a piano, which given that I did not grow up in a musical household was extremely generous. As well as being a dream come true, it was the catalyst for both the genesis of my composing career aged twelve and my sister’s singing-songwriting debut several years later. As a teenager I had several friends who played the harp. Despite having a magical, entrancing sound, it was a big, cumbersome instrument and ferried around in large cars by their respective parents in all respects A Faff.

Fast-forward many years later. I went to visit the family of a kid I used to babysit, and while there I found out they’d been learning the harp, but didn’t like it and gave it up. This was not one of the massive monsters I had seen growing up, but a lever harp – small, nimble, portable and sweeter than any large pedal harp could be, as it had no need to compromise on sound for volume like the orchestral harp. Although I understood that it wasn’t for them, I can remember thinking, “this kid had the chance to learn the harp and they just gave it up!” The realisation that I was now an adult and could do whatever the hell I wanted came a little while after when I was at dinner with my friend Di who also played the lever harp. Suddenly that pipe dream I’d forgotten about was not only tangible but achievable. By then, I’d been immersed in the world of folk music for many years so I understood the role that the lever harp played in the context of its music. So I went off to make it happen, and just over two years later managed to nab that grade 8 I’d desperately wanted as a kid but was never good enough on any other instrument to get.

I did a lot of self-teaching, but found an excellent harp teacher to keep me on the right track and help me with the grades. My teacher rented me my first harp for a few months which was nice but kind of bland in tone. I was on the lookout for a harp of my own. Unfortunately, the opportunity to try lots of different harp models in the UK only rolls around once a year in April at the Edinburgh Harp festival, which was almost a year away. So in the meantime I found myself a nice little Fountain harp, the twin of Di’s. Di’s harp was called Henriette, so I named mine Juliette. I eventually sold her on to a nice home once I found my perfect dream harp in April, but I have very fond memories of Juliette from that year. Juliette is the harp that is featured in the photo that I use everywhere (the one where it looks like I am in the middle of a forest. Which I was, but it was totally unposed, I promise).  While I had her, I wrote a nice little duet for me and my boyfriend at the time to play, and named it after my sweet little first harp. The duet was written for clarinet and harp but works for any treble solo instrument and both harp (lever and pedal) and piano can accompany it. We never did anything much with it, but it’s still nice to have. Maybe one day I’ll turn it into something bigger. In the meantime, here is the track to listen to.

The sheet music is also on sale for anyone looking for a nice duet or accompanied solo. Scored music is provided for the Bb clarinet, flute and violin and accompaniment for harp and piano, and sheet music for other instruments is available on request.

Oh and I eventually got to ride horses too. Adulthood sucks, but there are some perks.

I think I’ll go play my harp…

 

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The Cannon

Start as you mean to go on – I’m aiming for one post a fornight now on every other Thursday , and certainly no less than one a month:) I was hoping to talk about drowning cats this week but that’ll have to wait for next time…

This was the first game soundtrack I ever wrote, for the same company as I went on to write Diamond Digger and Adventure from Tora. The game is called The Cannon and was released on Xbox Live Indie Games and IndieCity a few years ago. The premise of the game is that you are in control of a cannon that can shoot fire, ice, lightning and vines. Coming to destroy you are, with varying timing and intensity,  ninjas, pirates, robots, monkeys, zombies and aliens. Each attacker has different strengths and weaknesses with regards to the things you can shoot. As the game progresses, increasing complexity is added – if I recall correctly, shooting lightning at the aliens made them multiply and so on. To complicate things further, the enemies could attack each other, so zombies could attack pirates and make zombie pirates. Much fun was had by players and reviewers, who gave generally positive feedback.

The soundtrack for the comprises a track for the survival mode, one for a timed mode, and one where the enemies come in waves. In addition, there was a track for every new enemy that was introduced in the campaign mode. Struggle for Survival was the first one I wrote, and possibly the one I’m most pleased with. This was where the tune line that came to be associated with The Cannon first appeared, and I had great fun incorporating it into later tracks. The survival mode track is tense and fast-moving.I took the tune and built it up for Wave Me Goodbye, which is much more chill, but still with a driving beat. That theme got reworked and taken further in I May Be Some Time, along with unifying ideas and themes from the previous tracks. This track for the timed mode is exactly 5 minutes. An ascending chromatic scale heralds the passing of the minutes, which are signified by a slight change in pace and style of the music. The track gets increasingly frenetic as time goes on, to the backdrop of a tick-tock sound, until time finally runs out.

The campaign tracks are a little different from the other modes. Where’s the Ninja evokes night-time and stealth sounds. Piratical Tendencies includes sounds of the sea and a piratey slip jig, as well as the chromatic theme from I May Be Some Time. Both of these tracks touch on the theme in Alienating, meant to evoke the grandeur landing and parading of visitors to our shores. Robot Rumble reworks the pirate theme to sound metallic and choppy, like robots moving. Monkey Madness has sounds of, you guessed it, monkeys, along with a new theme. This theme is used again in a lurchy zombie way for the final campaign track, The Zombie Lurch.

And finally, there’s the music played on the menu screens. The track is called Eighteen Twelve (geddit?) and uses themes from Wave Me Goodbye.

And that’s it, really! Sadly the game is no longer on sale as IndieCity went under a few years back and those involved went on to bigger and better things. Happily, the soundtrack is still kicking around on Bandcamp, so in a sense it has outlived the game itself. As all the tracks (apart from the timed mode track I May Be Some Time)  loop endlessly in the game itself, each track is presented with two repetitions.

I’ve posted the trailers for both the XBox and PC versions above (the soundtracks for which are taken from Struggle for Survival and I May Be Some Time respectively) and the link to the Bandcamp page with all the music below. If any one is interested further, the company webpage for the game is here. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Sketching In Sherbet

So I wrote this post over a year ago and then accidentally gave it to a serial procrastinator to upload for me, which was perhaps not wise. And then when he finally got round to it, he had internet-y problems so handed it back to me. And then I got distracted with writing a PhD thesis so I guess I’m no better. Now that that’s FINALLY all out of the way, I shall endeavour to resume with the blog postage. So let’s just all pretend for the duration of this post that it is May 2016 and then we can resume 2017-iness.

In the last few months, my musical exploits have been somewhat less composer-y and more performer-y and musical director-y, particularly in the realm of theatre. At the beginning of the year, I got to be all opinionated at other people in a legitimate setting (which is the best part of being in charge…!) and play some creepy harp music dressed in period costume while a slightly deranged Peter Grimes drowned a (puppet) cat on stage in a vat of water. Despite the cat thing (or maybe because of…?), it got excellent reviews and particularly favourable mentions of the music (more on this another time). Later on in the year, I teamed up with another couple of musicians (/fellow partners in crime), an actor and a comedian to remove the urine from Shakespeare’s The Tempest in celebration of his birthday in a “unique blend of traditional music, storytelling and comedy” which is great fun and I look forward to performing again (and again…) in the future.

I’ve got an exciting new film soundtrack project coming up (film music and feminism, what could be better) but in the meantime I thought I’d share with you this piece of music, which I’ve been saving up for some time now. I began writing it in the summer of 2011, which was a very interesting and eventful summer indeed, and remains to date probably the longest thing I have ever written for full orchestra. I left it mid-way for a good long while and finally finished it in the spring of 2013. It has been performed twice by two different orchestras in Cambridge as one requested it after hearing it performed by the other, in 2013 and 2014.

It started off as a small piece of music for someone specific, but it quickly became something bigger, ending up as a tribute to the most important lesson I learned in my undergraduate degree, which is that how good a person you are has nothing to do with how intelligent you are, how pretty you are, how hard you can work, or a million other things that are mostly outside your control, but how you can help  those around you and how they can do the same for you. How you treat the people you care about, and how a moment’s thought or effort can spare someone more pain. To all my friends in those difficult years, I thank you for being brave enough to tell me the truth to my face even though you knew it would hurt, for being courageous enough to lower your guard as I lowered mine, and for being patient enough to teach me how to be a better person. In real life it’s just a piece of music and you’re not going to hear any of that in it, so here are my thanks in words.
The piece is written in a pleasant sherbety-gingery orange, with bits in hot summer’s day yellow (the kind that’s fizzy and tastes of lemon). I hope you enjoy it.

Etched in the Memory

I’m not sure what the majority of teenagers do while hanging out with their friends, but given the lack of teens running around Hampstead Heath in period costume with a camcorder, it’s probably not what my friends and I got up to.

Our filmed scenes of the witches from Macbeth didn’t come to anything much (I don’t remember much of the actual filming but I do remember setting Maeve’s hair on fire and giving Rosie a monobrow and going to Waitrose afterwards to buy food still in full costume and getting a kick out of the looks on peoples’ faces…) I did write a soundtrack for it, but we were much bigger on the filming side of things than the actual editing business so it never got attached. Something similar happened for our next project – a spoof Harry Potter movie – but in fairness, Maeve’s camcorder got nicked with most of our footage and we rather lost enthusiasm for it after that. I really hope someone out there is enjoying our footage of us stuffing Esther in the cupboard under my stairs and Snape/Rosie spitting bitterly on the ground.

The first film project I was part of that actually had the soundtrack attached at some point was a short 20-minute film that my cousin Elad made for his A-level equivalent Drama in 2007.  I wrote three pieces for it over the course of several months and was probably the first real lesson in client relations (i.e. that they are always right (except when they aren’t) and also that they are much better at telling you what they don’t want than what they do). Elad and I at the time were both very stubborn and sure of our opinions (it’s like we’re related or something) and it led to many merry arguments but we got there in the end. I like to think we’ve both mellowed out since…

So the story of the movie is basically as follows:

A girl goes to stay with her gran, who lives in the same apartment block as a friend of hers. This boy has a couple of friends on the block, one of whom is clearly in charge and he decides he doesn’t want to hang out with her on account of the fact that she’s a girl probably so they make this plan to ditch her by playing hide and seek and making her swear not to stop searching for them until she’s found them all. Then they go hide on the roof, and sneak out periodically to fetch sweets. The boy who is friends with the girl is racked with guilt about this but doesn’t have the courage to do anything about it. The last part of the scene is them all going back to their homes and lighting Hanukah candles with their families while she is still outside in the dark looking for them. She carves a message on a tree and swears never to forget this.

Many years later, the girl meets the guy who is now working evenings as a bartender, and she recognises him but he doesn’t recognise her. She leaves him his number and they start dating. They go out for a stroll, and by chance end up coming accross the place he used to live. He takes her up onto the roof and tells her about coming to hide there with his friends. The next day he gets an email from the same in-charge friend who now lives in London asking him to pick him up at the airport. He goes and waits for ages, but the friend never shows and later he gets a text from him saying he missed his flight. He goes to meet the girl and her friends for some drinks, and wakes up the next morning in the middle of the desert with no clothes on, as it turns out she set this all up just to get him back.

The first bit of music (“1. Hanukah”) I wrote is for the earlier years. Elad wanted it to sound a bit like the theme from Edward Scissorhands, so I took a well-known children’s song about Hanukah and made it sad and tinkly and a bit edgy. I remember having a disagreement about what constituted “too edgy”, in the end Elad won out, he was probably right.

The second is for the dating montage (“2. The Dating Montage”). Elad wanted it to be minimal and not very deep, given the girl’s pretence of love, and sent me a piece from the soundtrack of Amelie. I wrote a short thing on the piano and went through until I found a sound I liked and stuck with that.

The third is based on the first, and is for the ending (“3. The One At The End”). I went to town on all the edgy that I wasn’t allowed in the first piece and I remember being pleased with the result.

Elad’s school gave out awards for the movie projects, of which there were six or eight in total, and we as a group picked up all of the awards but one (including best original score)…but then again no one has ever had any doubt about from which side of the family we got the stubborn perfectionism.

Here are all three pieces in full (above), and three excerpts from the movie where the music is playing (below) which a friend and I spent a long evening subtitling the other day (another life lesson: Never use Windows Movie Maker for anything. Ever. No matter how simple. Just don’t.)

Happy Hanukah!

Blue Is The Colour

A low-key harp piece this week after the madness of Master and Margarita. This one started life as a waltz (i.e. a folk tune) during the spring of 2013 while I was down in deepest north Devon hanging out with my folk piano trio. We were staying at the cellist’s house in the beautiful and desolate middle of nowhere…I vaguely recall lots of games of Backgammon, Oware and Rush Hour, and the general cozy feeling brought on by a lingering winter chill soothed by squishy armchairs and cats.

Much like the crazy dress colour saga that swept the internet a few months ago, one evening we found ourselves arguing about the colour of the dragon Toothless in the movie How To Train Your Dragon, a dispute we have not settled to this day. Pip (the cellist) adamantly insisted that he was black, a blatantly incorrect statement.

Anyway, the waltz was inspired by the beautiful soundtrack of that film, partly in a futile attempt to fill the post-film hole of loneliness borne from an aching desire of close companionship as represented by having such a pet dragon… When I took up the harp later that year it seemed to fit better as a proper piece of music and got bits added on and morphed into that. Originally with the piano trio we followed it with another jig I wrote that spring called Over Hill and Under Hill (movie-inspired tunes for the win…). The removal of the jig makes it feel slightly unfinished and yearning for more at the end; I toyed for a long time with extending the piece but ultimately, given the whole aching hole thing, the ending seemed rather apt.

Sheet music for harp (both lever and pedal) and piano available through Bandcamp.

Master and Margarita

Lately I’ve been haunting a small box high up at the back of the ADC theatre armed with just a notebook and a large sound desk that is definitely compensating for something. The show was an adaptation of The Master and Margarita, which was written by a clever Russian dude in the Soviet era who was nevertheless totally bonkers. It’s about the Devil, who basically randomly arrives in Stalinist Moscow with his entourage and they just go around messing with people, specifically the literary elite. Kind of like when you get bored of playing nice in The Sims and just set them on fire and freak them out with ghosts and suchlike. And then there’s the Master, who’s this random writer dude who’s writing a really cool book (in the play it’s a play, duh) about Pontius Pilate, and the literary elite don’t like him on account of implying Jesus was real and stuff so he goes a bit crazy and disappears. And so his lover Margarita goes and hangs out with the Devil in order to try and find out what happened to him. Yeah.

I chose this particular show to write music for in the summer by the careful selection process of going through the synopses of upcoming shows and kind of just going “nah…nah…nah…yeah…nah…”. The director seemed up for it, which turned out to be a good thing because there was a lot more actual music involved in the play than either of us originally realised. I spent the rest of the summer collecting ideas, none of which I eventually used, then ran out of ideas, then put it off, then went on holiday, then continued to put it off, and finally amidst an idea-drought forced myself to sit down and just write something because the show was three weeks away and at this point anything was better than nothing.

And so the first track, Ringing and Rose Oil, happened. I was quite pleased with it in the end, also on account of that fact that it’s very reassuring to know that even on a diet of No Ideas Whatsoever I still can apparently produce something, which has got to be the Number One Biggest Fear for an artist on a deadline. At the director’s request, it’s got the annoying ringing sound that is supposed to emulate Pilate’s hemicrania, and the general idea is to give one’s brain the hey-by-the-way-we’re-in-Jerusalem-now nudge.

The second, Never Talk With Strangers, is for the Devil and his entourage. It was the last thing I wrote for the play because the original piece of music that I wrote was kind of dark and edgy, and it turned out that what the director actually wanted was something much more fun and sassy but also a bit sinister. We hit on the idea of making it jazzy, which is totally anachronistic and weird and therefore perfect for the devil. It’s not very long and so based on the Jerusalem theme, which is also appropriate on account of the Devil being pals with Jesus and stuff. Contrary to what you might think, it’s the weird walking talking cat thingy that’s playing the saxophone in this track; the Devil is playing the bass guitar. (I’m not sure why this is important but it is.) During the run-up to the show, stuck in my little box, I would occasionally mischievously play this track out the front of house when actors were milling around on-stage because they would all simultaneously start dancing and doing funny walks.

The last two tracks are supposed to convey the story of desperate love of the Master and Margarita characters – one is the waltz at Satan’s Ball, the other for when Margarita is flying naked around Moscow. I didn’t mean to characterise them as instruments, but it came out in my head that Margarita is kind of the flute and the Master is the bassoon. I spent a long while waiting for inspiration to strike for this one on account of the fact that the story of how they fall in love is pretty strange and unbelievable, especially in the way it is presented in the play.

Master sees Margarita.
Margarita: “Do you like my flowers?”
Master: “No.”
Then somehow MAGIC-ONE-TRUE-LOVE-HOLY-CRAP!

In my (admittedly limited) experience, this is not how things generally work in real life. Luckily for the play, real life came to the rescue somewhat with some more experience to add to the pile, and so the waltz was written, followed shortly by all the other bits. About thirty sound-effects and other bits and pieces of music later, we had a soundtrack.

The actual week of the show was an insane hectic whirlwind of argh, which made me very much look forward to a time when composing will hopefully be the only full-time job and not balanced precariously on top of another one. It turns out the only time the writing is over is when the show is actually over, because of all the mind-changing and last-minuteness that is endemic in shows everywhere. My evenings were spent finishing work and then rushing down to the theatre to frantically update the cue list with the previous night’s changes and have hurried conversations with the assistant stage manager (Louisa: <3) to sort it all out before the house opened again. The rest of the night was spent pushing buttons and sliders while theatre happened to other people.

My thanks to the director Sarah and the cast and crew (let’s face it; mostly the crew on account of apparently the two don’t mix all that much) and also all those friends who came to see it and/or bring me dinner that week. Also thanks to the reviewers who were all very nice except for that one guy who came on the first night when things were a bit wobbly and was a massive tosspot.

And (aside from the actual music wot I have been blathering on about of course and is available to download using the player above) I will leave you with my favourite line and stage direction from the play, which are:

Master: …

and

A cataclysm.

Celtic Storm

Around my seventeenth birthday, my cousin Leah got glandular fever and it was serious enough for her to end up in hospital. At the time we were a bit worried I would get it too because we were fairly inseparable and in the habit of regularly eating off each other’s forks and suchlike. (I got nothing that summer but a mild sore throat so go figure). To cheer her up, I said I’d write her some music and asked her to pick a favourite colour, she said blue.

At this point, the influence of Lord of the Dance had firmly sunk in (see Piano Trio) and I wrote it in that style, which is one of the few things to which the word “celtic” does actually apply. (What’s “celtic” in a musical context? I’d go for “Irish-folk-music-inspired”. What’s “folk music”? Ummm…another time.) Like “Breakout” from Lord of the Dance, it starts off with a wishy-washy whistle thing and then launches into a full-blown dancey thing. It’s all in F#m, which is a dark, stormy sky blue in this piece. I used sounds of folk instruments like whistles and bodhrans without knowing what they were or why they were there and it’s only now that I listen with the wisdom of folky ears that I understand that it’s based on a jig followed by a reel. There’s fiddles and bagpipes and sound effects and everything (the soundtrack to Lord of the Dance is not played live. Why? It can’t be. I discovered this when I artificially slowed down the really fast and impressive section of the track called “Warrior” in order to notate it, and discovered that notes that sounded straight at normal speed were actually swung when slowed down – meaning that that part of the track had been actually recorded at a slow speed and then speed up afterwards. CHEATERS. (In layman’s terms, basically it was played with too much musical detail for that speed which you could only notice when you slowed it down)). I don’t know why I decided it should have thunder at the end, only instinctively knew it should.
The year after I submitted it together with Natasha’s Oboe Concertino for A-level coursework because of the tickey-box thing again. It only lost one mark. Probably for the cheesy thunder.