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.
It’s no surprise that Joli Vyann’s new show Imbalance got a standing ovation at its premiere. I was super excited after they first asked me to do their sound design. The two performers are mind-blowingly talented, and they’ve fused contemporary dance with hand-to-hand circus to create a really spectacular take on modern life. The show explores our obsessive dependence with technology, asking whether our lives are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of balance? And Jonathan Lunn’s choreography has clearly taken the company forward leaps and bounds to create a show that feels incredibly current and well crafted.
I write a lot of music for dance, and this show is a sound designer’s dream. We are surrounded by the sounds of modern technology all the time- from the clicking sounds of typing on a smart phone to sell service check outs- and that gives me a lot of material to make my music. For one section, the two dancers try to keep up while the sounds around them, which constantly demand their attention, gradually get faster and faster. The result is a hilarious reflection on how pressured and under control we can feel from the technology around us. And yet, later in the show the same sounds are chilling when they return over the top of a section on cyber bullying.
Alongside the music I composed for specific sections, we used a few tracks which were so great they sounded like they were made for the show. It starts with the beautiful Georgian singing of Ensemble Georgika, has a few glitchy Matmos tracks, and ends with an equally beautiful but completely different track by Fridge called ‘Our Place in This.
I had an amazing time performing at the New Baltic Dance Festival last week in Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s a beautiful, and green capital city, and i really enjoyed my stayed there. The festival was really well organised, and it was great to perform to such a great audience.
It was an honour for me to play the piano live for Ieva Kuniskis‘s piece, He Lived Next Door, a solo dance piece featuring the incredible Darius Stankevicius. The music is a hesitant piano piece written in the style of a Russian waltz, and adds to the grandeur of Darius’s incredible movement.
Dougie Evans, Ieva Kuniskis, Darius Stankevicius, Andrej Gubanov at New Baltic Festival, backstage after performing ‘He Lived Next Door’
Darius and Dougie performing He Lived Next Door by Ieva Kuniskis
Dougie Evans warming up the piano in Vilnius, Lithuania. New Baltic Dance Festival
Here’s a short excerpt from our performance at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2014
Just finished working with La Petite Mort Dance Theatre on a new show called Cabinet of Curiosities, which premieres in Accrington Library and will be performed in non-dance venues across Lancashire.
I collaborated with choreographer and Director George Adams on Cabinet of Curiosities over a few weeks during April in Lancaster. The soundtrack features everything from a Fly buzzing around the space to my trademark acoustic guitar, piano and found sounds.
George and I have previously collaborated together on the EU Cultural Commission, Integrance, which featured Stopgap, Platform-K, Micadanses, & Indepen-Dance.
LPM Dance Theatre creates evocative, cross-artform theatre that puts entertainment and artistic collaboration at the centre of its work.
Cabinet of Curiosities Forthcoming Performances:
Accrington Library- 26th June-7pm
(Taster performance) The Storey Gallery, Lancaster- 3rd July 6.30 and 7.30
The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster- 12th September -8pm
Following my hugely enjoyable and successful collaboration with Japanese dance artist Aya Kobayashi at the Tate Britain last October (see blog post), we were delighted that the Tate Families team asked us to be part of a new project at the Tate Modern this February. Inspired by Richard Tuttle’s ‘I Don’t Know‘ we created a piece which allowed families to respond to the huge waves of fabric across the Turbine Hall. Taking weaving as our inspiration we choreographed a large scale flocking performance which people of all ages and abilities could take part in. The participants were split into four groups and given sticks with coloured fabric, so that as the groups flocked through the hall they weaved patterns across the space.
The whole performance was controlled by children speaking directions into a giant tin can phone. The directions tell each group how to move, and each group has two dancers who show the families how to respond. The giant tin-can-phone was made by placing a contact microphone at the bottom of the can, which picks up the vibrations of people talking into it. This gives the same effect as the sound travelling along a string between two tin cans, but allows us to amplify the sound through speakers across the hall. I played a live piano improvisation inspired by bird songs which I developed into short piano motifs, played in response to the tin can phone directions.
Tate Britain is one of the most inspiring places I may ever get to work in my life. ‘Reclining Figure 2014′ was a collaboration with London based Japanese dance artist Aya Kobayashi commissioned for the BP Family Festival at Tate Britain. Set in the Henry Moore room, fabric costumes transformed members of the public into living and moving Henry Moore sculptures.
20 participants each hour became mini Henry Moore’s, and went on a movement journey exploring the magnificent sculpture around the room, with live music for dance (by yours truly). I also filmed and edited a dance film during our rehearsals which followed the performers’ journey with the sculptures. I would love to be able to share this film with you, but because it contains Henry Moore’s Art work it I am currently in discussion with the team from Tate on how we overcome the copywrite complications of the film.
It was my huge pleasure to perform at the magnificent Wilton’s Music Hall for the opening night of their brand new Strike! Dance Festival. As the oldest musical hall in the world, it is one of London’s most precious and hidden gems, and it resonates history and charm in every room. I also had the rare opportunity to perform my piano score live, enjoying the sound of the piano resonating through a hall dripping grandeur and charisma.
He Lived Next Door was new collaboration with London based Lithuanian choreographer Ieva Kuniskis, who has choreographed a virtuosic and moving solo on Darius Stankevicius. The piece was commissioned by Wilton’ Strike! and we had the great honour of opening the festival with our premiere.
It was interesting for me to be restricted to only composing what I could physically play. I have a great luxury as a composer to be able to write music without necessarily being able to play it, and it was nice to remind myself of that. Never-the-less, I gave my best shot at a contemporary piano piece in the style of a Grand Russian Waltz.
We have plans to develop a duet in 2015, so watch this space on future collaborations with this fiercely talented choreographer.
Really excited to be finally able to share a short dance film that I’ve written the music for, called Antechamber. It was produced by Wigglyline Productions and features contemporary dancers Rosa Kentwood, Hayley Barker, and Janina Smith. It is beautiful and grotesque, and the production quality is exceptionally good. The movement was improvised on the day and it think the dancers have done a brilliant job of capturing the surreal atmosphere of the piece in their movement. I really enjoyed composing the music for this film, and then adding some glitchy sound design to it. There are already plans to organise more dance films with Wigglyline in the future, so watch this space…