Bass Clarinet as a weather vane


Given the description of the ‘winds’ blowing in the last post, I have been giving more thought to spatialisation. The Old Barn is a T shape, as shown in the (badly drawn) picture below:


To give a clear sense of directionality, there will be eight principal loudspeakers located roughly in the positions of the points of the compass, as indicated. Strewn about or hanging from the rafters, will be a ‘forest’ of smaller speakers. Sound will travel through this forest using stereo panning. The four channels SW, W, NW, N will be panned hard left and S, SE, E, NE will be panned hard right. So, to make a journey from N to S will involve panning across from left to right, whereas S to N will be right to left. The complete formula is as follows:

N -> S = left to right
NE -> SW = right to left
E -> W = right to left
SE -> NW = right to left
S -> N = right to left
SW -> NE = left to right
W -> E = left to right
NW -> SE = left to right

In the midst of all this directionality stands the bass clarinet. He will have the instrument on a sling, saxophone style, so that he can turn to face whichever wind is blowing. He will then play off a menu of material for that wind. There will be eight stands, each with a single sheet of music, for this purpose. I suppose the bass clarinet behaves like a weather vane!

I hope the overall effect of all this will be to make it abundantly clear to the audience (who are scattered through the space) which wind is blowing at any given moment. Of course the musical fun will come from the content itself, the interaction with the soloist, and the choreography of the winds as they cross and interact with one another.


About Wind


The idea of Movement 1 is to mimic the way the wind blows through the Clump, the circular wood that tops Kelston Round Hill. We will be recording the “rustle of spring”: the sounds of wind in leaves, birdsong, even passing aeroplanes or human conversation. There will also be a wind instrument: the clarinet.

The main musical feature will be gusts of wind blowing in different directions. This will be achieved by using the four cardinal points of the compass (North, South, East, West) and the four ordinal points that bisect these (North-East etc.) These are called ‘winds’ in compass jargon.

In the Mediterranean, they give names to the winds that blow from each of these points. Each wind has its own character (e.g. the sirocco). English history is much less orderly in its categorisation of winds. There are folk names, such as: ‘dryth’, for a dry northerly; ‘piner’, for a north-easterly, ‘custard’ for an easterly, the delightful ‘cow-quaker’ for a southerly May storm, ‘sea turn’ for a westerly coming off the sea, and ‘cat’s nose’ for a cool north-westerly. A sou’wester is also both a garment and a wind. But these names often come from regions other than the West Country. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder catalogued the winds, as follows: Septentrio (N), Caecias (NE) which he replaced with Aquilo (NNE), Subsolanus (E), Vulturnus (SE), Auster (S), Africus (SW), Favonius (W), Corus (NW). It’s possible that high-born Romans living in Bath would have known these names. But this is really insufficient justification to allow for the winds in the Symphony to be so named. So, names will not feature.

Nevertheless, each wind does have a different character, as everybody knows. These characters affect not just the wind direction and its associated weather fronts, but also the general ‘feel’ and atmosphere for as long as that wind prevails.

Movement 1 will therefore group its sound libraries by wind characteristics. Where there is pitched material, the notes of the Aeolian mode will prevail (Aeolus was the Classical god of wind). The winds will blow across the forest of loudspeakers spread around the Barn. This will be achieved by panning across 4 stereo channels, which will then be output to clusters of speakers as appropriate. The live clarinet will stand in the centre, responding to the winds as they blow. Each gust will contain pre-recorded clarinet sounds, natural sounds and a collection of especially composed sounds evocative of the given wind. These may be represented as follows:

Wind Pitch (Aeolian) Character
N A compressing – stretching
NE E moving forward, propulsion
E B waves, braking
SE F divergent, chaotic
S C endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension
SW G spinning, stationary, obsessive
W D floating, falling, fading away
NW Always unpitched suspending-questioning, wanting to start

The character is evoked using Temporal Semantic Units (TSU) identified by the Laboratoire Musique et Informatique de Marseille. They give the following types:

Morphological characteristics:

  1. duration, which can be time delimited or not)
  2. reiteration (with cycles or not);
  3. number of phases (one or more) and
  4. sound matter (continuous or discontinuous sound).

Kinetic characteristics:

  1. acceleration type (positive or negative)
  2. temporal progression (fast or slow).

Semantic characteristics

  1. process direction (one or more sound parameters moving in the same direction),
  2. movement (motion effects)
  3. sound energy (constant or retained).

There are detailed descriptions of each character, as follows (some from LMIM, some by myself):

Compressing – stretching

Morphological description: Time delimited unit with two contrasting phrases. During the “compressing” phase, the sound matter is discontinuous and erratic. The “stretch out” phase is a globally uniform segment.

Semantic description: First there is a feeling of compression (as if we strongly pressed on an obstacle) then the barrier is suddenly overcome, suppressing all resistance and releasing the power. It is a sudden change from localised energy to scattered energy.

Moving forward, propulsion

 Morphological description: Time delimited unit with three phases. The first phase is quite a sustained fulcrum: a prolonged or homogeneous sound or slow iteration, globally uniform. The following phase is a brief acceleration of intensity, pitch, or any other morphological trait. The third phase is a typical resonance or silence.

Semantic description: We feel the application of a force to a steady state, resulting in an accelerated movement. Projection from a starting point.

Waves, braking

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, made up of the slow repetition of an increasing then decreasing sound motif. The shape of the profile can concern different morphological criteria (mass, dynamics, grain, etc.)

Semantic description: Each cycle conveys the feeling of being pushed forward, and then driven back until the end. We get the impression that we are stagnating through this unit although we feel motion within each cycle.

Divergent, chaotic

No specific description. The title says it all.

Endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, with a linear and usually slow evolution of a sound parameter.

Semantic description: The process must be oriented in a direction (for example, upwards or downwards) and however, it seems to never finish. The sound phenomenon must be long enough to be perceived as a process and not an ephemeral event.

Spinning, stationary, obsessive

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, in which a parameter (pitch, timbre) is driven by a quick cyclic repetition along with a thrust in each cycle, or with a quick and possibly varied repetition of a pulsed element.

Semantic description: We feel constrained by a mechanical process in which we cannot seem to act. We have the feeling of an object spinning on itself or in space.

Floating, falling, fading away

Morphological description: One phase unit, non time delimited, in which a sound parameter (pitch, dynamic, etc) floats and then falls away.

Semantic description: We feel sustained for a considerable period of time before drifting away, either falling or fading.

Suspending-questioning, wanting to start

No description required. The title is self-explanatory.

Kelston Roundhill Symphony

kelstonKelston Records have commissioned me to compose a symphony for Kelston Roundhill. This is a beautiful location outside Bath, pictured above. Full details can be seen on the Kelston Roundhill website.

Kelston Records have a mission to produce “ecology and environment themed music”. They publish “live gig recordings of highly gifted and original musicians for people who are moved by themes of community, place, landscape and the environment.” Their first CD was ‘Three Cane Whale‘ recorded live at The Old Barn.

The Old Barn is a fabulous small venue, about half way up the side of the hill. There’s a nice picture here. The interior is T-shaped and has stone walls and timbered rafters.

Here is the outline of the proposed Symphony as it currently stands. This will doubtless evolve further over time, but the basic framework will remain the same. It will be an electroacoustic Symphony, but with some live elements, including: clarinet, voice, early instruments and live coding. It will also involve quite a lot of collaborative work with musicians, composers, programmers and all the contributors to the final Movement.

Kelston Round Hill Symphony

Andrew Hugill

The aim is to create a musical work that maps Kelston Round Hill in four ways: as a physical object; its history; its spirit; its people and buildings. The composition will be a four movement Symphony, as follows:

Movement 1: Kelston Round Hill as a physical object

This soundscape composition will use location recordings, specially composed materials and instrumental responses. These last will feature clarinettist Roger Heaton (Professor of Music at Bath Spa University). The performance will use a forest of loudspeakers to reproduce the spatial aspects of the hill. Gusts of ‘wind’ will blow across the auditorium, carrying musical materials as they do so. The aim is to reflect the circularity of the panorama, so the overall theme of this movement will be circularity.

Movement 2: The history of Kelston Round Hill

This will build an evocative audio history of the hill, using early instruments such as bone flute and hurdy-gurdy played by Matthew Spring (BSU). Three poems by Jon Hamp will evoke the past of the Roundhill, first in neolithic times, then during the renaissance, and finally present-day. These words will be sung by Sara Stowe. Musically, the gradual formation and elaboration of a drone and a modal melody will be the main component. The final poem will also be accompanied by a live coding element, performed on Thor Magnusson’s ‘Threnoscope‘.

Movement 3: The spirit of Kelston Round Hill

This will be a contemplative movement concentrating on awareness and widening horizons of the individual. As well as evoking the act of contemplation, it will provide a soundtrack for individual meditation, by drawing people into an intimate world of whispered sounds and very quiet sonic events. The Old Barn will be recorded on a hot day, creaking and cracking as its timbers move. These small sounds will also trigger small musical events.

Movement 4: People and buildings of Kelston Round Hill

This is a collaborative composition. Over a period of time, people will be invited to contribute material, either via the web or in person at the barn. The material may be spoken, sung or recorded. Orchestral instrumentalists will also be invited to take part, working to a score provided by Hugill. Once the contributory phase is over, Hugill will develop the material in conjunction with all those who wish to be involved in the composition. This will be done through an online studio. It is expected that the result will be busy, lively, and packed with personal meanings that will surprise and delight audiences.