Friday, 30 November 2018

Canzon Cataclysmico origin story

With the Capriol Suite drawing to completion, my thoughts have been turning to the difficulty of explaining what the heck my music is supposed to be about.

What better way to totally confuse the issue than through the medium of a comic?

This is the (probably) true story of a meeting of musicians across time and an unlikely fusion of new and old music.

I've drawn and published the first episode at Tapas. The platform allows me to add a piece of music via SoundCloud to accompany each episode.

Part one of the origin story is longer than I intend future episodes.  I've added one of the pieces from My Lords and Ladies called Danse de Buffons, which seemed appropriate for a number of reasons.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Pieds En L'Air

Feet in the air? Who knows.

This is the fifth and penultimate movement from Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite. I'm delighted with the  way it sounds but it isn't really what I had in mind to start with. It's a bit of a departure from the other movements I've done, but maybe that's a good thing.

It's not as 'rock' as I wanted but the upright bass and brushes sounded great.

The sheet music looks like a hymn tune and sounds lovely when played by a brass band. I've played 3 parts on brass; flugelhorn, trombone (which is actually my flugel octaved down) and harmon-muted cornet. The resulting 'brass section' sounds good but totally different from the brass in the second movement (Pavane). Maybe when I have a better studio setup I'll record it all again and be more consistent.

The improvised guitar on top sounds ok, I think and is my way of saying 'no, this isn't lounge jazz'.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Bransles - just about done

Of the movements in this Capriol Suite project, this is the longest and it has been the most challenging.

It has all sorts of counter-melodies and cross-rhythms going on, it was far cry from simply deciding which instrument to play which of the original string orchestra parts on. It has many sections; the intro and letters A. through to L. Each is different and needed to be thought about separately.

It is the most exciting movement, and having done this I feel I've broken the back of this whole project.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Tordion - sounding finished

In my last post I had almost finished the Tordion from Capriol Suite. But there were some embarrassing dodgy high notes on the descant recorder part. I've since bought a sopranino and have been able to re-record those same notes in a more comfortable register.

I'm much happier with it. It's starting to sound finished.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Third movement of Capriol Suite finished, with a little remedial work to do

This is movement 3, a 'Tordion' which is a light dance "popular from the mid-15th to the late-16th centuries" (it sez on Wikipedia).

On paper there doesn't seem to be too much to it; it's a light dance, and like the first two movements of Capriol, fairly short. I noticed that up till letter B there's a swell and change of style on every fourth bar, so I've souped that up a bit; the biggest is the third time that happens. After letter B (on the sheet music) there's a gradual dim with a change of style from stacc. to pizz. with a gradual dying away so I've tried to reflect that, switching to clean sound at D. That change is not very noticeable because I'm palm-muting throughout (except for the breakouts.)

The top part (Violin 1), which I'm playing on soprano recorder, reaches to the top of the range and in order to hit the top C's I'm whacking them a bit hard. I should get hold of a sopranino so I can play those high parts with a little more finesse.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Next project - Capriol

I've been wondering what to do after drawing a line under My Lords and Ladies.

I had a few ideas, I've tried some Monteverdi and some Italian dances in general.

A very long time ago I started looking at the score for Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite. Having pulled that out again and started to do a little work on it, it's clear that it's going to work out well.

Peter Warlock wasn't a 16th Century composer (early 20th Century). He wasn't really called Peter Warlock (he was Philip Hestletine - Peter Warlock is a much cooler name). But the 6 movements in the suite are all based on 16th century dances.

Here's the first rough demo. I really like the arrangement (I've pretty much just played notes off the score). An opportunity to play lots of brass.

I usually work like this - record all the parts without worrying too much about perfection, to get an idea of how it'll sound, and get ideas about any modifications I might want to do. There are some wrong notes in it. Some are my mistakes, but you also discover errata on the score. For example, if you've downloaded the string orchestra score from IMSLP, the 12th bar of B has a wrong note in the bass. The rest of the parts are obviously playing notes from a D major chord (D, F#, A) but the bass has a Bb, which clashes horribly and I think should be a D.

Capriol 2 - Pavane mp3

Update 30 Aug 18, more work in progress

Capriol 1 - Basse Danse mp3

Sunday, 27 May 2018

My Lords and Ladies - album now available - 16th century rocks

With twelve tracks finished I decided to draw a line and call this project finished. There are many more 'Lords and Ladies' but I have other ideas that I'd like to explore.

The music is played directly from the old sheet music, maintaining the renaissance feel of the music, with additional rhythms and guitar improvisation for a modern rock sound. I'm very proud of the result.

"that's certainly different... Well done." - my Mum.

It's available for listening and, if you'd like to keep it forever, for purchase, in two places so far - Bandcamp and CD Baby.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Recent work, Lord Rendal

This traditional ballad didn't really fit with the rest of the tunes that I've been recording. It is said to date back to the 17th century as 'testament of the poisoned man' or similar (and in Italian I think). But that had a very different tune.

The version I came across and really liked was by a Victorian gentleman, Granville Bantock. But I went with it anyway. Hey, they're my rules. And did what I felt was right. An opportunity to play a slow melody flugelhorn solo as the intro and finish, and get a bit raucous in the middle.

That doesn't really fit with the sentiment of the song, which is a conversation between Lord Rendal (or Randal sometimes) and his mother. He's feeling pretty ill and it turns out that he's been poisoned by his sweetheart. His mother seems more concerned about what things he's leaving to members of his family.

I'm pleased with what I've done nonetheless.

That makes 12 tracks now, and I'm going to start uploading them for purchase at Bandcamp and other sites, and preparing myself for the sound of tumbleweed.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Latest work, Lord Willoughby His Welcome Home by John Dowland / William Byrd

I've just finished this after some late nights and I'm really happy with it.

I upgraded my guitar halfway through working on this. The new one is set up beautifully so there are fewer intonation problems on this recording and I'm learning how to achieve a nicer recorded guitar sound.

Once again the music / chord changes lend themselves really well to a rock style, while still retaining the renaissance feel.

The sheet music I've used is from My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music (1591) (number 33). That's obviously written for keyboard but as is often the case with harpsichord or virginal music it's not too much trouble to pick out four or five parts.

I'm a little confused though because that collection of virginal music is credited to William Byrd. (It's also rather quaintly spelled 'Lord Willobies Welcome Home'[sic]) I can't see a credit to John Dowland on that arrangement, but I'm sure that Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home is a John Dowland tune.

I've found these notes on the collection of music but it doesn't mention other composers' names, only crediting William Byrd.

So I'm fairly sure that I should credit this to John Dowland, arr. William Byrd. (And rearranged by me.)   If anyone can confirm or clarify,  please do let me know.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


Here's a quick run-down of how this project arrived at where it is today.

Some friends from the brass band / brass quartet world and I started to take an interest in the music of the sixteenth-century. There are some commercial arrangements for brass  of some great tunes from the period, such as Pass Time with Good Company, Earl of Oxford's March, King's Hunting Jig. It was easy to find sheet music for much more along the same lines (original manuscripts and more usefully, readable transcriptions) and create the four parts that we needed.

That worked out pretty well, we ended up with some OK recordings but never performed in public. I felt the need to be doing something a little different with the music.

I think Blackmore's Night's Locked Within The Crystal Ball was my epiphany. It turns out to be based on Stella Splendens (took me a long while to make that connection). They really make it rock and add their own lyrics.

There are more projects along the same lines - I absolutely love The Bones of All Men by Phillip Pickett & Richard Thompson. It's a little less 'rock' but still adds a modern feel to the music. There's Apocalypse Orchestra, nice and heavy but maybe a little doomy for me. And numerous bands such as Eluvitie and Saltatis Mortis who are successfully combining ancient and modern instruments and the feel of the old music with modern rock.

At around the same time, I had an accident which put me out of action brass-wise. (A pavement-face interface which led to some dental work and surgery on my top lip.) That door closing led to some new doors opening - I learned recorder from scratch and bought an electric guitar for the first time since my teens.

I'm gradually getting better at recording this music. It's taken a lot of trial and error to find the most suitable microphones and A/D / USB interface (currently SM57 and a Roland QuadCapture) and I've moved to Logic Pro from Garage Band.

The quality of my recordings isn't perfect and my performances still leave room for improvement, but it really isn't about those things. It's about the concept - finding out what can be made by blending the new and the old.

As I write this I've completed around eight tracks. These include a Status Quo-inspired Lady Hudson's Puffe and a flugelhorn performance of Early of Salisbury's Pavane that I'm really proud of. (Back in action brass-wise, with limited stamina and range.) I'm loving the possibilities!

I'm planning to use this blog to write about the things I learn on the way, some of the great music I find, my development with new instruments (drums and percussion!) and anything else that occurs to me.