Friday, May 1, 2020

Derri Lewis - Tri/o

Using music as a tool to answer a research question, Derri Joseph Lewis' 'Tri/o' is an answer to this question: Can a computer be taught to improvise in the same way as a human? A concert-experience for improvising pianist, spoken voice, and electronics, 'Tri/o' blurs the line between human intuition and  artificial intelligence.

Inspired by the progressive work of Helmut Lachenmann, Derri takes an unconventional approach to playing an instrument, and rather than being concerned with rhythm and melody, focusses on the different sounds that an instrument can create. Scratching, hitting and plucking the piano's inner strings, clicking, hissing and enunciating staccato syllables are just a few of the intriguing techniques used to achieve his eerie, atmospheric piece.

Derri says, "It’s been so interesting and revealing to pull apart the aspects of music - in order to program the computer to analyse, understand and eventually compose its own music, I’ve had to think long and hard about what the most important elements of performance are, in order for the process to feel like a real improvisation. It’s also a bit scary to give this sort of power to a computer…but don’t worry, I don’t think that AI will be taking over the concert hall any time soon. There were, however, moments in rehearsals where the computer genuinely surprised me in its interpretation, that I think gives this performance of TRI/O a proper sense of spontaneity that is vital for great improvisation."

Click here to listen to Atmospheres Radio. Derri's Tri/o will be played Fri May 1 8pm. Don't miss it!

Madeleine Brooks, Natalie Roe and Ella Penn - The Imposter

The doubtful, destructive inner-monologue of a student is transformed into a very real and tangible, singing character. How can you escape the negativity of your own thoughts when they physically materialise in front of you? In a collaborative effort between MA Opera Director and librettist, Madeleine Brooks, and RWCMD composers, Natalie Roe and Ella Penn, 'The Imposter' is a short opera that explores the destructive qualities of Impostor Syndrome and the impact that this can have on daily life.

Whilst the narrative of 'The Imposter' is not necessarily autobiographical, Natalie says that the self-doubting tendencies caused by Impostor Syndrome, "especially in an arts college, is quite common. This is exactly why we wanted to bring awareness to it." Adding to this, Madeleine says, "I thought of writing about this subject after a friend said to me at college ‘Don’t we all just have impostor syndrome until we are successful enough not to’. I did a bit of reading about it, and watched some TED talks, and what I learnt gave me the structure for the opera. The simple characters were inspired by a Tina Fey quote; she says, ‘the beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re
on to me! I’m a fraud!’

In the original Atmospheres festival, 'The Imposter' was to be performed on stage in the College's Carne Foyer, but when faced with the challenge of reimagining the premiere of their piece to fit an online format, the keen, creative minds of this trio quickly went to work to think of various alternatives. As a result, you can listen to 'The Imposter' on Atmospheres Radio on Sat 2 May 2:30 pm, and you will also be able to watch a final product of filmed footage with animation which is set to be released soon after Atmospheres! Watch this space!

Click here to listen to Atmospheres Radio.

(Design by Louis Smith, RWCMD Design Student)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Fleur Snow and Zack Wilkins - How to Argue with your Spouse

Fleur Snow, our MA Opera Director, and Zack Wilkins, composer, provide us with an insight into the creative process for their pop-up opera, ‘How to Argue with your Spouse’ in the form of a weekly diary. Read on as they unravel the project, from Zack’s challenge in matching, “a surreal libretto with a sufficiently surreal score,” to “the logistical challenges of space,” and discover how the piece grew and developed.

Project Diary by Fleur Snow (MA Opera Directing)

Week 1: Our first session together consisted of a ‘speed-dating session’ for the opera directors to meet the composers. We each had to bring a story, a sound file and an image and then share our thoughts on them together. Zack and I realised we had actually met before on a National Youth Orchestra of Wales composition residency a few years earlier. This, combined with a similar joy in all things absurd, meant that we got on like a house on fire!

Week 2: This was the point where we started our series of weekly ‘foyer meetings’. For an hour each week, we would have a cup of tea and talk about anything and everything that gave us inspiration. To begin with, we shared our current and previous pieces of work and then made a plan for the following sessions.

Week 3: I decided we should base our conversations around a theme, starting with an idea, coming up with creative responses to it and then seeing where it led us. The first of these was conflict and we had a happy hour dreaming up a 15-minute opera based purely on a conflict between two characters.

Week 4: This week we chose the word ‘romance’, another key operatic theme, and worked from there. We talked about what would happen if romantic characters from different operas were to meet each other in the foyer before each opera began…

Week 5: In our final explorative session, we took the theme of politics and worked out what we would do if presented with this premise for a short opera. This was in the period leading up to the General Election; despite the exercise being an enjoyable one, we decided it was too tense and too variable a theme and left it there!

Week 6: This was the turning point of our whole project. We were invited to a workshop with Mike Pearson from National Theatre Wales, thanks to the support of the Carne Trust. After a presentation which opened all the doors and blew away all the cobwebs from our previous way of visualising theatre, we were given different tasks in our teams to put things into action. During a break in the workshop, Zack and I had another cup of tea (a common theme!) and started joking about an idea for an opera based on the revolving doors in the foyer. Somehow, this idea snow-balled and we had finally found our niche. How to Argue with your Spouse was born!

Weeks 7-9: Now that we were in the middle stage of the project, each meeting was spent experimenting with further ideas and plans, now pushing the idea to as absurd an extreme as we could take it, now stripping it back to its bare bones and seeing what was left. We talked about improvisation, different styles, operatic tropes and how to play with them and in general had a lot of fun playing around with different ideas.

Week 10: We had talked a lot, shared a lot of ideas, spent a lot of time drinking tea and wandering around in the park outside, and it was finally time to put pen down to paper and write the libretto. The process was surprisingly painless after nearly three months of preparation, and within the space of a week I had managed to send Zack a shaky but determined first draft.

In fact, it actually turned out to be two libretti – one to be sung out loud, consisting of six words in three pairs of opposites, and the other a silent accompaniment to the action. The revolving doors were the theme of Act 1 (“IN/OUT”), Act 2 took place in and around the lift, (“UP/DOWN”) and Act 3 featured the foyer balcony, (“OVER/UNDER”). Somewhere along the way, we had also acquired a saxophone quartet and a brass band conductor, and these were heavily involved in the action, as was the pianist. Contented with the amount of absurdity and fun we had squeezed into 15 minutes, we sent off the libretto to our tutors Martin Constantine and John Hardy for their permission to progress to the next stage. They liked it too and we were off!

Weeks 11+: Over the Christmas holiday, Zack took the music away to begin composing and working out how to put our idea into its final, musical form. However, once we had come back to college, we realised that we both weren’t happy with the resolution of the spousal argument and continued to meet each week to discuss what we could do. Firstly, through many cups of tea, we worked out what niggled each of us individually in the ending. From that, we then went back to our initial approach of trying lots of different ideas without committing to any of them initially. Through this freedom, we finally ended up with an ending which worked for both of us and were ready to begin the (sadly unrealised) third phase of rehearsals by the time the Coronavirus pandemic hit.

Tune in to Atmospheres Radio on Sun 3 May 12pm to hear Fleur and Zack's 'How to Argue with your Spouse!'

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Joshua Yardy - Blumin 'Ek

Rooted in exploring familial connections, Joshua Yardy premiers ‘Blumin ‘Ek,’ a unique depiction 
of a family portrait, as part of our Atmospheres festival. In a busy fusion of rock, jazz, acoustic 
and orchestral music, Joshua introduces his family, capturing each person’s personality and sense of humour, through snippets of conversation recorded through voice notes. In the words of Joshua himself, this uplifting piece is a, “crazy...funny...conglomerate nonsense!” 
We can’t wait to hear it! 

A whole year in progress, and with an impressive seven hours of footage recorded and carefully planned, Joshua develops the simplicity of a voice note to symphonic levels. Describing his creative process, he said, “I analysed the musical content of each phrase of each person. So I’d take the metre of how someone talks, or the rhythm and pitch of each person, and even as close to what key signature I could get for each person, and made a piece for each member of my family based around them, their personalities and what I’ve taken from how they speak.”

Yet, underneath the meticulous planning and careful arrangement, Joshua just wants his music to be enjoyed! “Musically, I feel the piece brings out my own sense of humour and it’s very me, I feel. I just really, really want people to laugh. The whole thing is supposed to be fun and I just want you to laugh.”

Fancy a mood-booster? Click here to listen to Joshua’s ‘Blumin ‘Ek' which premieres on Sat 2 May, 2:30pm

Benjamin Wilkinson - Tales of Humanity

What if your dream was a reality? What if your reality was a dream? Would you truly know? Would you judge someone else for thinking differently? With an existential focus on human perspective, Benjamin Wilkinson questions the reliability of dreams, legends, nightmares and myths in ‘Tales of Humanity,’ premiering in the Atmospheres festival. With the use of speech, poetry, acoustic and electronic sound, Benjamin says his music questions “different types of stories and how these stories might be what somebody else has lived, and how somebody’s dream might be a reality for other people.’ Prepare for your minds to be opened!

Whilst discussing the purpose behind his project, Benjamin described hoping his audience will listen to ‘Tales of Humanity’ from a personal place and embrace the mindfulness his music inspires. He says, “I really wanted people to be sitting there and exploring their own story. The point of the concert was always to encourage people to understand that they are only living in their own book, they’re only reading their own book, and there are so many others out there. It’s limited to live your life without listening, understand, exploring and looking at how something you understand as a myth might mean something totally different to a different person.”

His music’s sensitive and insightful approach to the human psyche stems from his personal struggle with mental health. Benjamin says, “I chose to study composition four years ago because it came from a very hollistic place for me. Writing music has a basis in emotional expiration for me. I suffered with mental health was really important that I was able to express...and writing music was a very good way of expressing my own emotions. In the middle of my teens, music became a way for me to tell my story.”

Don’t miss Benjamin Wilkinson’s ‘Tales for Humanity,’ premiering Sunday 3rd May at 5pm.
Click here to listen

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Alistair Hickman - Dataflux

Alistair Hickman combines his talent in composition with his interest in economics in his new project, Dataflux, which premieres at Atmospheres. Using data sonification (the expression of data in music) to musically convey data about our economy, Alistair says he aims to use his music “to assess whether data is a useful tool or not.” This is set to be a truly fascinating debut!

Dataflux pushes the boundaries of traditional music and explores the different ways ‘sound’ can be used as music. When describing the creative process, Alistair made it clear that he drew inspiration from an expansive variety of genres and composers. He said, “some of the music that inspired me in the creation of this work varied from the early musique concrète composers, to film composers like Thomas Newman, and the metal band, Tool.” Dataflux is certainly a great example of the musical diversity that Atmospheres encourages!

When asked about his favourite composer, in keeping with the style and context of his piece, he said “If we look at the data, my current most-listened-to artist on Spotify is Thomas Newman. So, as data is a useful tool, then my answer would have to be him.” Talk about embodying your art!

Don’t forget to tune into the premiere of Alistair’s Dataflux on Sunday May 3 at 12pm! Click here to listen!