I had great fun making some music for Amy Morvell’s new duet called Turtle Dove. All the sounds take their lead from some beautiful soundbites of people talking about love, that Amy had collected during her research. So rather writing music for contemporary dance on the theme of love, the musical tracks are inspired by the places and characters we hear in the text, and that is what makes it so varied!
Huge thank you to The Point for hosting a preview of my immersive sound exhibition The Choreography of Sound. The exhibition gave me an opportunity to test some of the recordings I have made while researching the project, and get some audience feedback on what has been successful so far.
They Live Next Door is a touching, tender and gritty show that knits unique stories with intricate choreography and nostalgic live melodies. Set in a home, on a street not too far from your own, it explores the light and the dark of familiar relationships. The duet is an emotional rollercoaster that sensitively uncovers the complexities of preconceptions around masculinity. At times conforming and other times shaking off stereotypes, multiple relationships between the two men unravel, weaving memories,expectations and domestic rituals. They Live Next Door sets out to ask how social stereotypes affect our identity and our relationships with each other.
Following an 8 year career writing and designing sound for contemporary dance, the Choreography of Sound is my first attempt at taking away the dancers and exploring just the movement of sound. After all, sound is a wave; and exists only within movement. So what happens when I start to shape how that sound moves in a space?
I’ve been working with Lila Dance again over the last few months on a new immersive dance performance called The Hotel Experience. Here are some shots from my photoshoot with them in the Creation Space at The Point. I love dance photography and when it is always interesting to try to capture the themes of the show in photoshoot. One of my key aims was to use flash photography to freeze moments in time or motion, illustrating how the hotel is a place of transition. The show has a magical element to it, that the hotel itself feels somehow alive, and i’ve tried to show this through the surreal look of bodies floating above the bed. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Depicted through a David Lynch-esque filmic style, The Enormous Room portrays a relationship between a father and a daughter who are trying to deal with grief.
The soundtrack for The Enormous Room is a complex mix of dreamy nostalgic music and household sound FX. When I first met Stopgap’s Artistic Director, Lucy Bennett, to discuss her creative ideas I knew instantly that it would be a production in which i could really flex my sound design muscles. So in order to write my tracks for the show I divided the sound design into two aspects:
An internal soundtrack which creates a realistic, nostalgic and at times claustrophobic environment for the characters.
An external Soundtrack which is more musical, cinematic and heard “from above”.
(Continues after photo gallery)
Enormous Room- Stopgap Dance
I loved composing the music for the show. It’s a mix of synths and guitar quite unlike any other i have written for contemporary dance or theatre. It has almost a twin peaks feel to the reverb drenched guitar loops and distant vintage synth sounds.
For the more surreal moments such as Nadenh Poan’s utterly enthralling solo and the beautiful Rooftop Duet between Hannah and Christian, the percussive elements of the music are made from recordings of me drumming on kitchen utensils, pots and pans. In the second half of the show some of these rhythms return for Christian Brinklow’s solo, this time played on a wooden door to give a deeper more dream-like texture to the music.
Under the whole show is a track called the enormous room tone. This is an infinity looping, almost inaudible track of kitchen sounds, opening and closing doors/cupboards, fridge/freezer buzzes, kettles boiling and outside traffic. This track is to make sure that there is never true silence during the performance, keeping the audience immersed in the bizarre melancholy of the show.
The show is touring in 2017, please visit Stopgap Dance Company’s website for more details. http://stopgapdance.com
We have a section in They Live Next Door affectionately titled the Man Waltz, because the music is actually based on an Argentinian tango (which is obviously more manly than a waltz). After running the section in rehearsal Ieva (fully assured of the rationality of her request) asked me if I could play it so that it sounded more major but still in a minor key, which I couldn’t help but laugh at, particularly because it followed her direction to the dancers to speak less in order to say more.
On a more serious note the duet is shaping up to be a really powerful and beautiful piece, and it was lovely to get such positive feedback from our sharing with The Point staff on Friday. Nick Minns and Mark Boldin are absolutely fantastic performers.
Next week we’re off to Theatre in the Mill Bradford, to put the final touches on all the sections, transitions and finer details. All of the music is written now, so it’s just about making sure that the music and the sound design really support Ieva’s vision for the piece.
Watch this space…
PS. I did manage make it sound more major, whilst playing in the minor key, in case you’re wondering…
Writing a soundtrack for contemporary dance can be pretty varied, and as both Co-Artistic Director of Lîla Dance and a freelance composer I’ve made more soundtracks than most. Over the years I’ve made everything from abstract soundscapes to rock and roll and drum and bass. So one thing I’ve found is that you can quickly feel like you never have enough kit to cover what ever crazy brief the next choreographer might give you. But the reality is that generally, there are five pieces of equipment that I take everywhere with me.
#1 A Laptop (Macbook Pro)
I only switched to mac a few years ago, but I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now, I can confidently change any equipment I connect to my laptop without worrying about installing drivers. Before, buying a new audio interface meant wasting hours of my life trying to get it to work with windows, uninstalling then re-installing drivers, and sometimes in moments of despair… completely re-installing windows.
I own a 13” Macbook Pro with a Retina Screen. I bought the top model from the Apple store, so that it would be a fairly future proof investment for me. It’s about 3 years old now and the new models are almost the same speed. I wasn’t bothered about the Retina Screen when I bought it, but I’ve noticed that it has greatly reduced the strain on my eyes from working on a laptop all day. It’s also great in theatres when everything goes dark, it will automatically dim the brightness and the screen is still easy to read.
#2 Quality Software (Logic Pro X)
While technically software is not equipment, you will be hard pushed to make a soundtrack without any software. There are loads of great music editing apps for composing for dance. I use Logic Pro X, because I’ve found it relatively easy to use and it is able to produce extremely high quality sounds. It is mac only though, so if you use a windows computer then I really recommend FL Studio, which I loved using. I could make a track unbelievably fast with its ‘click and drag’, ‘copy and paste’ style workflow.
One of the things I’ve noticed about ‘going mac’ is that the cost of the laptop is higher, but the software is much cheaper- Logic is £149.99 and so Final Cut X is £229.99. That’s amazingly good value when you consider Cubase Pro is £406, and Pro Tools can cost thousands.
#3 USB Audio Interface (RME Babyface)
An audio interface allows you to connect your computer to inputs and outputs.
Making music on Virgin Trains
Most of my dance soundtracks involve original recordings of guitar tracks or pianos. I think acoustic guitar tracks work well because they can be fluid, expressive, and dynamic. I also really like recording Cello, which can be incredibly beautiful and emotive.
Some soundtrack’s I have written music for, also contained vice overs, and recording of text. Having a quality audio interface allows me to connect a good microphone and record professional voice overs no matter where I am.
One of the reasons I chose the RME Babyface is because it has XLR outputs. This means that when I’m in a theatre running sound for a show, I can give provide high quality, low noise outputs which lock into place, so I don’t have to worry about it accidentally disconnecting during a show. Connecting to the headphone output of a laptop can cause interference from other technology, such as mobiles phones in the audience, and the longer the cable the worse the sound.
#4 Portable Recorder (Tascam DR-40 / Zoom H1)
Contemporary dance can be quite an abstract art form. One of the things I like to do in my soundtracks is add ‘found sounds’ from everyday life, to give a sense of place to the dance. It makes movement look ‘real’, and it can really support the choreographer in creating an environment or sense of place to the performances.
I own two portable recorders, the Tascam DR-40 and the Zoom H1. the tascam has XLR inputs which means I can connect professional microphones to it and record anywhere, I also use this to record film audio. The Zoom H1 is half the size and weight, which makes it super convenient to keep in my bag, and its built in microphones are capable of some very high quality recordings. Check out the recording I made of a choir at Charing Cross Station. As soon as i heard how great the choir sounded on top of the train announcements, I was able to quickly get the zoom out of my bag and record it.
#5 An instrument
These days you can get some absolutely beautiful sounding virtual instruments, but for me, nothing beats being in the studio with a real instrument, reacting to the movement around me. It’s not always a guitar, but I find that the recordings I make have more life, soul, and character than a digital instrument can ever reproduce. Recordings also have a sense of space which I find can help fit with dance.
I’ve watched choreographers spend huge amounts of time working with dancers on movement qualities, and this has had a huge impact on the importance that I also place on qualities. An important lesson i have learnt is that sometimes the way I play an instrument is more important than the notes I play.
So now you’ve heard what I use, I want to know if you’ve ever tried to make music for dance, and if so what did do you use? I look froward to reading your comments below.
Last week I finished my second contemporary dance soundtrack of the year. This time it was for the lovely and talented Tim Casson who has made a family friendly piece on Stopgap‘s SG2 Company, called Night at the Theatre.
It’s a show about three unlikely characters (Hannah Sampson, Nadenh Poan and Connor Quill) accidentally stumbling into a theatre and becoming the stars of their own show. It has some hilarious moments in it, and some really beautiful dancing.
The set and lighting design is spectacular- creating the beautiful illusion of an old abandoned theatre. I’ve tried to match this with a sound design which includes creaking floorboard, and a draughty atmosphere. When the music for each section fades away the characters are always left in this sound design.
Some of the highlights are Dan’s dreamy solo (pictured at the top) which I created a track with windchimes and glockenspiels for, and Hannah’s Disco which has more funk than you can shake a stick at.
SG2 are an integrated dance company run by Stopgap, which means that their dancers are a mix of disabled and non-disabled dancers. I’ve worked with Nadenh and Hannah before when we worked with George Adams on Integrance a European cultural commission for disabled dancers. Both Hannah and Nadenh are really skilled dancers, so it was great to work with them again, and inspiring to see how much they continue to improve.