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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The Sculpture Boys

Sculpture – The art of making two- or three-dimensional representative or abstract forms, especially by carving stone or wood or by casting metal or plaster

The Sculpture BoysAppreciators  of the art of making two- or three-dimensional representative or abstract forms, especially by carving stone or wood or by casting metal or plaster.

As the only two students who chose sculptures to inspire our music, Marty and I deemed ‘The Sculpture Boys’ the only sensible title for this blog.

Paddy Price

Negro Riding a Goat

Ascribed to Andrea Riccio

negro-on-a-goat

This small bronze sculpture in the corner of a room with no context, appealed to me greatly. With nothing telling me how I should respond, I could interpret the piece in any way I wanted.

When viewing the sculpture initially, I imagined a long and difficult journey.  It is clear that this small boy is in great discomfort, his muscles are tensed and he is struggling to balance. In contrast, the goat is strong and reliable, with its horns used as reigns to steady the boy.

In my music I wanted to create this sense of an anguished journey, using Marty’s beautiful flute playing to narrate the story. I intend to divide the piece into three sections opening with some dissonant mysterious flutter tonguing, moving into a more spiky and aggressive passage and concluding on soft and floating flute lines.

Here is an unpolished version of my opening section…

Marty Fisk

Homme Vu Par Une Fleur

Arp

I wasarp immediately drawn to Arp’s rather unassuming sculpture when I first saw it on display. A single piece of small curved bronze doesn’t seem like it would be full of inspiring source material for creating a piece of music, but the longer you spend with it, the more small details begin to stand out. Simply through years on display, the metal has begun to corrode and take on elements from it’s surroundings, increasing in detail over time.

I have chosen to reflect the work through an ambient work comprised wholly of synthesised sounds generated in SuperCollider. Using SuperCollider gives a level of customisation and control over sound not available through a more end-user focused synthesis method, allowing me to easily program the subtlest variations in sound that such an artwork demands. The majority of the source material used will be based upon Sine waves as I feel that their simultaneously bare yet warm tone is most in keeping with the contrasting nature of Arp’s sculpture: Smoothly curving but pitted by corrosion, or the warmth of the colours against the coldness of the metal.

The following audio file demonstrates the range of tone available from changing just one aspect of a single note, in this case the harmonics above the base pitch (110Hz).