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The Residency – Day 1

April 30, 2012

One day into our Huddersfield Residency and it’s all going rather well!

As I predicted, there is a range of levels of capability across the group at this stage, but it’s a very small range from just-about-nailed-it to a-bit-shaky-but-still-basically-getting-there, and everyone is ready for the task of putting the score together – by no means a foregone conclusion given how much work is required to get even that far, and how easy it is to go so wrong in one’s learning if one mistakes the instructions even by a little.

In a word…phew!

My plan is to make sure that by the end of three sessions we have covered everything in the piece, trying a section slightly under-tempo, then taking it apart completely (not for the last time!), pointing out some features of individual lines that need improvement, trying to improve them (not always possible straightaway) and eventually putting back together before moving on. It’s like the old story of Michelangelo making his sculptures, gradually chipping away at the block of marble till he has a rough outline of the work, then getting into more and more detail and refinement until it’s finally there. I’d say we’re getting to the rough outline point right now, and it already feels and sounds pretty exciting.

At dinner the night before, Aaron and I had talked about the overall impact of the piece, and the overriding sense of shock, if not horror, the listener should feel on first encountering it – akin to the stomach-churning that accompanies one’s first view of a Francis Bacon painting. Not cheap shock of course, but something quite visceral and lasting, that grows on you rather than diminishes as the work progresses. This was something we decided to put to the singers immediately: no matter how little brain-space one might think one has for such ideas at this point in the learning process, it is crucial that somewhere in your mind you have an idea of the final goal, an underlying motivation for all the contortions you are putting yourself through. And certainly there was the sense throughout the day that people knew why they were making noises ranging from the most delicate fluting and fluttering to the most equine and vomitous – even if the focus and force were not quite there yet.

Focus and force – these things, contrary to what some may think – are always inextricably entwined. In this piece, as each gesture takes on more and more definition, as the infinitesimal nuances of Aaron’s notation sink deeply into the bodies of the executants (this is, first and foremost, a physical music) – only then will the full impact, the sheer, warped strangeness of this music, come fully out (like, one is tempted to say, some Goyaesque monster emerging from the shadows…). And from time to time, after some patient, slow-moving and meticulous work, we began to hear glimpses of what A painter of figures in rooms will – eventually – become.

Not too bad for Day 1…

After the serious work, some serious down-time is in order: say what you like about Aaron, that man can cook Mexican food!

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