Behind the Strange Wild Songs
What does Rhum and Clay sound like? This was the first question that needed answering: creating live sound for a group who had not used a live musician before. Initially communication of ideas was difficult between us all. “It needs to sound happier” could mean one of any number of things relating to tempo, instrumentation, harmony, tonality, register or accompaniment. What the boys lacked in technical musical vocabulary I lacked in general theatrical knowledge, so there was a lot of trial and error initially to discover what worked and what common reference points we had.
Songwriting (for me at least) is a very private process in which you assemble and recreate the private sounds and thoughts you hear in your head so that you can share them. Music composed for a show is the opposite; it is more akin to finding the music that other people hear in their heads and writing it down for them. I found myself often remembering ideas I had studied in relation to music and film (an area that has fascinated me during both my degrees.)
When a soldier is play-shot by a boy, the disjointed, sombre electric guitar adds a poignant resonance to the recreation of a wartime death that could have seemed clinical against a different accompaniment. The choir of wails created whilst the sleeping mute children enact the horror of war literally gives voice to the horrors they have seen and dream about, yet also invokes a hundred absent mothers lulling the lost boys to sleep. The discordant, jerking, semi-improvised accordion that accompanies the soldier and children fighting creates a haphazard, wonky atmosphere similar to the unbalanced and disjointed experience of both war and childhood, with the confidence and clamour matching the attitudes of the boys onstage. The silent-film influenced piano interlude helps invite the audience to engage with and believe in a child’s daydream, lending it an animated feel when coupled with the handmade puppets.
I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with such skilled performers and to bring some of my own swirling music out of my head and into the ears of an audience.
Being able to tip my hat to so many of my musical heroes in my first score is also extremely fulfilling: Radiohead, Debussy, Bjork and Kate Bush live in ‘Sleep Sequence’, This Mortal Coil and Hendrix in ‘Gunshot’, Yann Tiersen and Oliver Wallace in ‘Shostakovich’ and Prokofiev and My Bloody Valentine in ‘Strange Wild Song’.
Recently winning an award for student composition was completely unexpected (I still don’t know who entered me!). If I were to write for a devised show again, I think I would compose far more music early on to be able to account for the huge amount that gets left in the rehearsal room and I’d be far more familiar particularly with the problems faced by live performance (feedback, audience noise, differing technical set-ups between theatres).