Last year Lauren Redhead and I were pleased to receive a grant from the Hinrichsen Foundation to commission a work for organ and live electronics from Irish composer/playwright/performer Ailís Ní Ríain. We eventually received a draft of Ailís’ piece Sour Morning Crimson in December, 2019, and it was this that signalled the beginning of a collaborative process.
Leading up to the first performance, Ailís and I had been communicating about the kind of electronics she is interested in hearing. Our first performance took place at the Ideas of Noises Festival in Birmingham, and the second at the Electric Spring Festival at Huddersfield University, and so our conversations—mainly across email—were in preparation for these two performances. I opted to create a patch that blended both sound files with some light processing. In principal the patch consisted of a series of granular synth sound files, 2D.wave~ (a glitch processing object in MaxMSP), and 2 LFOs to control some of the processing in the 2D.wave~ more precisely. In fact this quite simple set up also served me well when constructing the patches for Sophie Stone’s piece Far Infrared.
In November I had met up with the flutist Paul Cheneour, in order to experiment with different strategies of improvisation. This has led to our forming a trio called Trio CZW, which also includes Maureen Wolloshin. I used the recording made from these sessions last year for the granulation and for the 2D.wave object. Often, due to the extreme slowing down of the sound files, the results are a long way away from their original sound, this small ensemble of objects is able to create a vast palette of sound. The main departure was that the patch ends up being a live patch, that I operate as if it were an instrument, rather than playing back one lone sound file, coordinated by a click track. Therefore the collaborative aspect of this project consisted in Lauren and I sending sound files back and forth with Ailís, both from our rehearsals together and of solo experiments.
Both concert performances both have an improvisatory feel to them, as Lauren was also asked to respond not only to what is in the score, but also to insert pauses and create dramatic moments with the electronics. There is still a little way to go with this piece, and we very much look forward to conturing our work with Ailís to narrow down the musical, expressive and technical choices during performance. In the programme note Ailís writes that her composition was written in response to a poem called by the late poet from Northern Ireland Padraic Fiacc (1924-2019):
“The title is taken from ‘Lives of a Student,’ a poem from 1946 by Northern Irish poet Padraic Fiacc (1924–2019) from Ruined Pages Selected Poems (The Blacksta Press, 1994). As someone raised in the Catholic faith—as was Fiacc—and now a practising Christian, the idea of a ‘sour morning crimson out of a long lent’ reverber- ates strongly with me. It is di cult to capture in words how one wrestles with aspects of the faith we choose to follow. The poem is, for me, a challenging and often ab- stract allusion to what our faith asks of us, personal struggle and religious doctrine.”
A video recording of our performance at the Electric Spring Festival can be found here.