Three composers walk into the Bar(ber)…

A Pastoral Landscape – Claude Lorrain

As idyllic and peaceful as it first seems?

Olli Smith

A Pastoral Landscape
Image retrieved from barber.org.uk

A Pastoral Landscape, painted by Claude Lorrain, is a beautiful work depicting the artist’s vision of utopia: rolling hills, idyllic scenery, and man living in harmony with nature. After studying the painting however, I was instead transfixed by the large, imposing castle featured on the right-hand side of the image, an aspect which is surprisingly rarely mentioned in many writings and interpretations of the work – including the artist’s. I was interested in this conflict of interpretations, and wanted to explore this idea in my composition. I thought the best way to do this would be by creating two diverse soundworlds to represent each interpretation of the work, then gradually intersperse and blend them to portray how they both coexist with each other in the painting. The castle, which I find imposing and authoritative to look at, is signified by dark, drone sounds produced from processed recordings of a gamelan gong and low vocal notes, an example of which can be heard here:

In contrast, the artist’s vision of the painting, an idyllic and tranquil scene, is depicted in a more literal sense, with field recordings being layered to create a soundscape of what the viewer might hear if they were stood inside the painting. An example of this soundscape can be listened to here, and to learn more about the recording process for obtaining these sounds, feel free to watch my vlog from last week!

My aim for the piece is to gradually combine these two soundworlds, not only creating tension in regards to the conflict of interpretations, but also to portray how I envision the castle slowly spreading its authority over the landscape. Here’s an example of how I’ve been exploring this:

I haven’t yet decided on an ending for my piece, but in the meantime, I intend to carry on merging these soundworlds in a similar manner and seeing where this takes me.

Vesuvius in Eruption – Joseph Wright of Derby

One of the most wonderful sights in nature…

Alex Lindsay

A Pastoral Landscape
Image taken from WikiArt.org

Wright describes the volcanic eruption as ‘one of the most wonderful sights in nature’ and I am inclined to agree with him. I was instantly drawn into this painting by the grandeur of the volcano and the chaos surrounding it. However, as I spent more time with the painting, the contrast and serenity of the moon became more of a focus.

My composition is based upon memories of the eruption as Wright returned to England to produce the painting. As listeners we are taken on a journey through the serene landscape before witnessing (or hearing) the overwhelming chaos and beauty of the volcanic eruption and are finally left  with a sonic representation the aftermath; a warped, distorted depiction of what was pure beauty at the beginning of the journey.

This week I have been focusing on this concept of distortion and warping the opening material to create my final section of music. As much of my first section is pitch-based, harmony has become an important device in my composition process and in my desire to create a more tense, dissonant soundworld. As inspiration for this I have looked towards one of my favourite composers: Alfred Schnittke. In particular, I have been listening to his Requiem as his setting of the “Recordare” text creates a harmonically dissonant yet hauntingly beautiful soundworld – not dissimilar to what I am trying to create in my own work. The final three statements of the word “Recordare” are particularly haunting. Schnittke uses an incredibly dissonant cluster of C#, D, D#, E but spreads the notes across the choir in a way which makes the harmony sound much less dissonant than expected just looking at the pitches. Here is a video where you can follow the score and explore the soundworld of Schnittke:

The Crucifixion – Odilon Redon

Simon Meikle

I have always harboured a deep interest in religious imagery and symbolism, specifically artistic depictions which illustrate the macabre and human elements of religious texts. In a mildly depressing vein I was not truly drawn into a painting in the Barber Gallery until I was presented with a symbolist interpretation of the torturous death known as crucifixion. Completed around 1904, Redon’s Crucifixion took inspiration from Grunewald’s depiction (1523) which was recognisable for its bloody realism (an overtly human vision of Christ) and bending crucifix. Redon retained the image of the cross bending from the metaphorical weight of the world’s sins but substituted the inherently grim visual aspects in favour of powerful and evocative colours. A choice which I initially viewed as an ethereal departure from the human depiction of Christ before reading over the curatorial files and discovering that Redon was representing the  visceral pain and anguish through colour. Retaining the human elements from Grunewald’s work.

the-crucifixion-1904.jpg!Large

I was delighted to discover this as I often feel that the image of Christ on the cross is seen by many as a mere symbol of the faith, a piece of religious iconography or jewellery that whilst containing significant meaning, refrains from discussing the fact that this was a common form of punishment. An amalgamation of a death sentence and torture which involved impalement, broken dislocated limbs and suffocation. In my opinion, to truly  understand the religious and non-religious significance of these depictions, one must confront the horrific reality  of crucifixion in all its bloody realism.

I am attempting to demonstrate this within my piece, using recordings of percussion which gradually warp and distort into a homogenous wall of noise, signifying Christ’s death. To create an aesthetically pleasing piece based on this painting would not effectively convey the emotional power found within this work in my mind.

I have created certain sounds to reflect visual elements within the painting, such as the use of edited ratchet noises to represent the wood in the cross breaking and using panning and pitch in an attempt to construct an aural crucifix out of bowed cymbals. I will hopefully be able to record two voices, humming the chant Crux Fidelis to represent the fading figures of Mary and St John.

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3 thoughts on “Three composers walk into the Bar(ber)…”

  1. Simon – I really like how your sounds have come on in the past few weeks. I think you’ve really managed to capture the feeling of the painting by using just the right amount of processing so that the sounds are abstract but still quite raw. I wonder whether you could vary the timbre of the recurring snapping wood sound as time goes by? It might be interesting to occasionally add a bit of EQ to filter this sound in different ways, which could be effective in pushing the piece in a certain direction or helping to introduce new sounds.

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  2. Olli- the two distinct sound worlds you have crafted for this work are very impressive. The castle’s macabre world is appropriately dark without becoming murky in any way. The pastoral soundscape is well made, the artifice of its construction lost when confronted with the painting- I could be stood in the landscape! This section also contrasts wholly and provides much needed respite from the castle’s oppressiveness. My only note for the Soundscape is that the running water could be brought down in the mix slightly in order that the aural and visual perspectives remain in agreement.

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  3. Olli – I love how you’ve layered multiple field recordings to create the pastoral soundscape. All the different elements seem perfectly placed. I also like the way you’ve used a cowbell to represent the cows in the painting, and also think that you’ve captured their distance away form the painter perfectly.

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