Composition Marathon 2014

Last weekend I had the fortune to be part of Glasgow’s third and final Composition Marathon, hosted by Chris Glasgow of the Scottish Music Centre.

When I arrived on Saturday morning I was initially nervous. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but I had a fear that everyone would be fresh out of University with a million music related degrees, totally outclassing my one year of guitar lessons twenty years ago. As it happens I was completely wrong. The composers all came from diverse backgrounds with a mixture of experience and education, and, importantly, a big mix of ideas.

First we had breakfast then the five ensemble bands were divided between the ten composers and we were off! I had the privilege to work with three members of GIO, the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, who instantly put me at ease. Instrumentation-wise I had Gerry on the electric piano plus sampler, Emma on flute and Una on the double-bass to work with. We started by going over the instruments, particularly some of the more unusual means of playing them, such as singing harmonies into the flute or aggressive string pops on the double-bass. After that it was on to writing! Fortunately I had my trusty accoustic guitar with me so I set to noodling around to get a few ideas together.

It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but I think GIO were the perfect match for me. They’re used to improvising, to taking a musical idea and running with it. In the past they’ve used paintings or movies as a basis for improvising music. Which works for me as it meant I didn’t need to write anything down. I came up with some ideas, gave them a loose structure and let them run with it. And it worked amazingly well! Far better than I could have hoped.

Sunday was the day of the performance, which was held in the Arches, a place I’d never been to before. It’s an amazing venue behind Glasgow central train station and built into the arches of the bridge which carries the train tracks. The morning was spent setting up and rehearsing, which was quite a feat for five bands with completely different instrumentation. The concert itself was an interesting mish-mash of styles and musical ideas. A lot of hard work went into producing some interesting pieces of music, some of which strayed into seriously experimental territory. A highlight for me was seeing the Skoog in action. The Skoog is a digital controller aimed at getting children with disabilities involved in music. It’s a small foam cube with coloured shapes which can be poked, prodded and squeezed to create sounds. I’m looking forward to having a play around with one some time soon.

Now I’m just wating to hear the recording of the event, which should be up on Soundcloud some time soon.