Layers of Pages/Pages of Layers

This project was composed for Bex Lycett’s major project at the
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. This piece was inspired by the following painting.

Original painting by Bex Lycett

The brief for this piece was to compose using a painting and the
transcript of what a synesthete could hear when looking at the painting. I
started writing this piece for solo alto saxophone then after discussing it
with Bex, we concluded that it would work better as a duet for both alto
saxophone and piano. This ended up working much better for the
performance as it meant that with the second layer of interpreted sound as well as the performers bouncing off each other, it made it a much more
interesting performance for the audience to hear.

The score for this piece was created by using the painting itself to
inspire shapes and music references to be drawn and layered over the
original piece. I used clear plastic sheets and layered them over the painting for me to then draw the shapes on. The idea is that as the pages are turned over by the performer the sounds that they should be producing will become sparser as there will be fewer shapes to be interpreted left on the score.

I set some parameters for the performers to follow but I still wanted it
to be very free and not overly restrictive.

For example, the main rule was the range for the amount of
time each performer should spend on each page of the score. I decided that is was important that it was a range and not a specific amount of time as I thought it would work well when two people were playing because it would hopefully create staggered page turns. This turned out to work really well in the performance and it meant that it created the appearance of constant sound rather than in time breaks where both performers would have turned the page.

I wanted the sound outcome of this piece to be just as important as
the visuals but I decided that one of the parameters I did not want to set was any restrictions on harmony. I chose to do this as I wanted it to achieve a very raw outcome. I think this worked well in the performance as it allowed the performers to have harmonic freedom and bounce ideas off of what each other were playing.

I chose to create a graphic score that would be interpreted by the
performers as I was becoming more and more interested in the ways that music and scores can be interpreted differently even when performers are given the same instructions. I think that this links well to the amount of freedom I gave the performers as both of their responses came back very different from each other.

For the saxophone part, I worked closely with the performer for a
while before the first performance. We spent time going through some
parameters that would make the piece easier for the performer, as initially, she was quite uncomfortable with the amount of freedom I had given. This time consisted of going through different sounds and extended techniques that the performer could include in the piece. I found that this was very interesting for both of us as it showed how pieces often need to be tailored more for a specific performer.

Premiere of ‘Layers of Pages/Pages of Layers’

The pianist who played this piece in the concert was very happy to be
given the graphic score and decided that they did not want to rehearse it
before the performance. I liked this approach and I think that to me, as a composer, it does not matter how much time the performer wants to spend preparing for the piece. I think it should be left up to the individual and whether or not they feel it is important for them to spend time on it in advance of the performance.