Play Me Mend Me
July - August 2022
I'm part of a wonderful online community in the Spirit Level Discord that occasionally runs a challenge called WAV Island – once a week upload something new you've written for 8 weeks. It's a fun way to get things flowing with a supportive and friendly crowd, and hear a diverse output of music. When it's all over, we each pick one of our entries to go on a compilation album. You can check out both Season 1 and Season 2 compilations on Bandcamp.
The timing of Season 2 was very serendipitous – just as the project was funded by a Wollongong City Council grant and I was about to start work! What followed were 8 weeks of audio sketches – I would improvise, record, layer ideas to share. I found the process of sketching something, then putting it away to work on the next sketch worked really well for me. It stopped each sketch going into a pit of disillusionment and kept the energy and momentum going. I was also sharing some of these sketches as I went on Instagram as Friday jams/sketches. I really liked this as a chance to share and connect to others through what I was creating.
An experiment with the eerie sounds on the instrument – revel in the scratches and the screeches.
Playing around with tuning the instrument to different chords. This chord comes from a beautiful piece that Elizabeth Jigalin wrote for me while my hand was injured so I could play piano with just my right hand.
This week I was trying out a new playing position – somewhere between a cello and a bowed lyre. I also wanted capture something of the sound of medieval bowed lyres and a more folk tune. I had been playing a lot of Witcher 3 at the time and also included a set of Scandinavian medieval music in the Upstairs @ The Glebe: Stir Flutter gig with the music box project. I'd love to make a short bow for playing this as my violin bow was a bit long and cumbersome to play like this.
I've wanted to write a piece capturing an MRI for a long time. Years ago I had one and had the best time – an amazing, personal minimalist electronic concert right around my head.
After trying to organise to record one for ages and coming up against roadblocks, I've shifted tack. It's been so long, that I think the memory of the sound and the joy of the experience has become more important.
So this sketch was about starting to build an impression of an MRI on The Instrument. I had a lot more planned for this week but ran out of time, but that's ok because I know what I want to do next!
I want to add layers of loud rhythmic chords, and I want to add some little click/taps that are sort of transition sounds.
Something I've been learning about recently is how breath works and feels in my body, how it relates to pain and emotion. Learning to breathe with my diaphragm and expand/contract in unfamiliar ways.
This was a longer improvisation that I will ultimately split into 3 pieces. One of my favourite sections is in the instagram reel.
This was the most complete sounding sketch to come out of this process. It unfolded naturally and unexpectedly. I went in to try some gentle plucking rhythms (I was thinking about the really gentle way that my osteopath manipulates muscles). Then I just kept playing and returned to some arpeggio bowing (my favourite). My wonderful partner has a great way of approximating words when they don't come straight to him, so he called it 'archipelago' bowing. I loved the instant connection to this time with WAV Island, so that's what it was called.
This week's sketch turned into 2 sketches, with 2 ideas that I originally thought would layer really nicely. When I actually put them together it really didn't work for me, but I thought they stood well on their own. The first one is based on circular bowing I did when I performed on the instrument in June. When I made myself a note of what to play, it connected in my memory to a photo of a teacup I took. Sometimes I make a note of something that just feels like it will be creatively interesting, but I don't know how yet. Years down the track my brain just pulls it back out of the bag and it's a good feeling.
This sketch came from a feeling that I was avoiding this part of the instrument – what to play on it? How to make it interesting? Can I really make any sounds on it that don't sound like a horror soundtrack?
The answer came after a conversation with Anita (who made The Instrument), who noted that it sounded bell like.
Sometimes that's all that's needed for a creative spark.
A return to plucking rhythms – this time a hocket (which is absolutely one of my top five words). A hocket is a melody or rhythm that is shared between two (or more) voices so that one voice sounds while the other rests. The opening is the hocket, with half the notes on the lower section of the instrument, and the alternating notes on the upper section. I used the same tuning as week 6 and am feeling pretty good about it. It also seems the most stable of the tunings I've tried so far – the right amount of tension on the strings.
Next I want to refine the ideas in these sketches. Part of doing that will be scoring them. This gives me a chance to reflect on patterns that emerge, what ideas and motifs are present, how I might structure pieces.
It will also help me record pieces without it entirely being in my head by making performance parts. It will help me think about how I might perform the pieces live – what parts are there in each one?