#22 of 23
04/06/16

Opticks - Solo violin piece - World Premier

04/06/16

News:

Tuesday will see the premier of my solo violin composition Opticks, inspired by the stained glass artist Daniel Cottier and performed by Alexander Janiczek with electronic collaboration from Ela Orleans.

It will be performed at Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow at 8.30pm on 7th June as part of the Cottier Chamber Project.

It is my first full solo instrument composition. I have written plenty of tunes, generally intended for me or my bands to play, but this was a completely different job and the writing is a much inspired by Bartók and Pärt as it is my folk background. Both of these composers drew on elements of folk music (who doesn’t) so perhaps my own little circle is partly complete here. More circles a little later.

A little on Daniel Cottier (mainly stolen from Wikipedia):
Daniel Cottier was born in Anderston, Glasgow in 1837. Anderston was then a rural town separate to Glasgow with a population of around 12,000. Cottier trained as an apprentice with two glazing and decorating firms; the second being John Cairney and Co through which Cottier would have come into contact with the genius Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson. Thompson was a holistic designer and included furniture, carpets and coloured decoration in his building designs. This must have greatly influenced a young Daniel Cottier.

Cottier moved first to Edinburgh then to London around 1857 which brought him close to William Morris (and his developing colour theories), the Pre-Raphaelites and the dawn of the Aesthetic Movement. Cottier returned to Scotland in 1862 with a deep understanding of colour harmony and opened his own business in Edinburgh in 1864 aged only 26.

He moved his company to London in 1869 where he developed an interest in international art dealing. This brought him into contact with Vincent Van Gogh who visited Cottiers London showroom in 1876 and was very complimentary of his work.

Cottier was heavily responsible for establishing the Aesthetic Movement in America and opened his New York branch in 1873. While there he collaborated with Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge. He also expanded to Australia and made four trips there between 1873 and 1890.

Daniel Cottier emerges as a key figure in the Aesthetic Movement in the UK mostly for his stained glass-painting but he was an equally talented colourist and ornamentalist and his many commissioned works testify his position among avant-garde London design circles on the 1870s.

He died in 1891, aged 53, of a heart attack while in Jacksonville, Florida. His firm survived in New York until 1915.

Andy Saunders at Cottier Chamber Project asked me to write this piece on the evening I heard the most mind-blowing of acoustic performances, James Ehnes and Steven Osborne performing Beethoven and Brahms.

I was in an innovative juxtaposition for weeks after this performance. Deep in a kind of creative quagmire/glow, doubting my own abilities as a performer (normal)/while also reveling in the possibilities of writing for a virtuosic classical violinist. It wasn’t intended, but writing this piece made me question my place as a musician, my limitations versus my musicality. The music I’ve written is at times out of my technical reach but I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve come out of the process more confident in the way I play and in the way I write. All good so far, back to the music.

In writing this I visited Cottier Theatre (Old Dowanhill Church) a few times, absorbing the beautiful windows and playing and recording some improvisations in the space. I took photos of the windows and some of the restoration of Cottier’s decorative paintings, printed them out and covered the windows of my south facing room with them. The fine lines and angles were inspiration in themselves, but Cottier’s colour harmony added the extra glow which struck the same endorphin-ey areas of my brain that are triggered when I write about landscape.

I would waken each morning to these images and the music flowed. One process I always follow was taken from Japanese author Haruki Murakami and that’s to always end the day on the crest of a good idea, which sometimes means finishing earlier than intended or (usually the case) much later.

I researched the theories of colour harmony and came up with some writing processes.

There are 12 colours in the colour wheel. I substituted the colours for 12 notes and followed the basic colour chords to generate musical patterns. They looked like this:

I played around, mixing up these lines and elements of these patterns emerge throughout the piece.

One of the most consistent sources of inspiration was that I was writing for Alexander whose playing I find so beautiful, lyrical and delicate, yet powerful and so characterful. This was in my mind through the whole process.

I wanted an electro-acoustic element in this piece for a few reasons:
• I thought that a visit to a stained glass studio would provide fantastic source material
• I love collaborating
• I thought the space, the acoustics, Alexander’s playing and the inspiration would suit electronic input
• I love Ela’s sense of space and her general sound aesthetic and wanted to work with her

Ela and I visited the stained glass studio at the Glasgow School of Art and recorded Eilidh Keith at work in her studio. Ela has used this source material as well as samples of my own playing within the piece.

From Ela:
I like to closely work with the image, so the idea of working on music dedicated to work of Daniel Cottier felt perfect. After an e-mail exchange, I met Aidan at GSA’s Glass Work Department and recorded half an hour worth material strictly related to stained glass process. There was a lot of cutting, breaking, sawing and stippling sounds, which I then selected, sampled and put through different filters to create electronic “back drop” .

Then I received a few drafts of music from Aidan. Some material was played and recorded by him and accompanied by midi documents, which I then transformed into patterns and started programming them into a variety of patches. Our first rehearsal with Alexander Janiczek took place in Edinburgh two weeks ago. Since then I have been working on applying the sound in the parts of composition in the way so the electronic element adds the colour to the original structure of the piece. A few days before the show I am trying to edit electronic parts and place them in the manner so it contributes rather than stands on its own next to the sound of the violin.

This is Saturday afternoon and I’m trundling north in a van with my trio Lau. I have a rehearsal with Ela tomorrow then a final play through with Alexander on Monday. I’m very excited about how it will sound on Tuesday.