Some years ago, Bob Gilmore, John Croft and I hatched an idea for a conference which was going be called ‘The Joy of Pitch’. So far that hasn’t happened, but the music I make seems to consolidate around some similar preoccupations, a sort of Tonal Recall, perhaps. They’re there in qui/nt/et and Topophony and then Unlocking the grid (the latter to be released in February 2018 on Heather Roche’s CD of my clarinet music). A manifesto might read like this:
#1 Space is sound is time
#2 Tones from musical instruments are usually enough
#3 Silence is never silent
Three other recent pieces, all to be premiered in the next few months, follow these principles. untouch-touch gives the percussionist Serge Vuile a series of gestures to make, the first time to trigger sine-tones, the second time to strike six gongs. senza misura is a piano work for Philip Thomas in which the time is taken by groups of notes gradually sounded all over the keyboard – the music sounds both completely consistent and yet never the same. Flauto inverso grew out of Karin de Fleyt’s wish to ‘re-imagine the flute’ and uses the flute that Boehm so skilfully homogenised in the 19th century but gradually takes it back in time, and then perhaps even out of time.
I am doing other things too, including gathering a collection of my writings about music for a book, but mostly I have been writing a lament, Caoineadh, for alto flute (and, later on, flute and piccolo), clarinet, piano, violin and cello. I used to think the Pierrot quintet lacked timbral variety but a commission from the London Ear Festival made me think again and now it’s finished. The piece is a memorial for Bob Gilmore (hence the Irish title) and alternates sections which evoke the shade of Claude Vivier, subject of much of Bob’s scholarship, with sections based on a repeated, falling, mourning figure.
Work on Caoineadh has meant putting aside fantasma, the first part of a triptych of vocal consort music for EXAUDI called Canti del carcere, setting Gramsci and Dante, for which I already have the latter two parts. I have also broken off from writing music for violin, cello and piano for the Fidelio Trio: five movements with the overall title This is the wind of which the third movement, ‘Mouth’, is now complete. And work on my cycle of O Antiphons is also interrupted; I have five so far, the most recent being ‘In a flame of fire’, a setting of ‘O Adonai’.
Then I will make a work which assembles field recordings in the way that the makers of Stonehenge assembled stones, with live musicians too, playing composed and improvised music. Like Topophony it will also involve improvising, and Open Space in Snape Maltings will host some days of preparatory work on the piece in May 2018. Then more music for electric guitar quartet; lots to do…