I’m now into my third week of working almost full-time on the score for Sounding the Deep. The second set of Signature Moments for the second movement is now complete and will be published on-line from tomorrow. I’ve never before attempted publishing a work almost as soon as it has been written! It has its scary moments, not least in making sure the music is properly edited before the score goes out on the web.
Editing is an established part of a writer’s world. Look at an author’s introduction to any novel and there will be gratitude expressed to the editor who has supported the author through the trials and tribulations of turning a typescript into a printed book. One of the issues surrounding music publishing on the web is that few composers are able to engage editors, partly because of cost, partly because of availability – there are very few of them about! I’m incredibly fortunate to have a regular editor in the composer Patrick Brandon, someone who has known my music almost since I began composing in my teens. He not only points out mistakes but also offers a critical commentary.
My scores go through quite an exacting process of correction and editing. This is partly because harmonic ambiguity plays a vital part in my musical language. Since the demise of tonality in the late 19th century composers have found it increasingly difficult to decide just how to ‘spell’ their music. Take away a key signature and the musical spelling can go either way, sharp or flat. My music has very strong tonal implications so I am very careful to find a way of spelling accidentals in melodies and chords so it makes sense to the performer. For singers and string players a sensible spelling can really help find a good scheme of intonation.
Just a little while ago I saw Jan Kounen’s film Coco and Igor. There was an engaging scene where Stravinsky’s wife is sitting up in bed ‘correcting’ her husband’s sketches for The Rite of Spring. She suggests that he has no patience for doing this job! Later in his life Stravinsky became very adept at this sort of correction. He didn’t however reach the heights of accuracy that his contemporary Bela Bartok achieved whose publisher reckoned the Hungarian composer never slipped up with so much as a mis-spelt accidental.
The second movement of Sounding the Deep is entitled Kingdom of the Helmet. In it William Beebe describes his discovery and initiation into this kingdom. It was clearly a revelation, but one he did anticipate engaging with as far back as 1906 in his first best selling book The Log of the Sun.
The time is not far distant when the bottom of the sea will be the only place where primeval wilderness will not have been defiled or destroyed by man. He may sail his ships above, peer downward, even dare to descend a few feet in a suit of rubber or a marine boat, or he may scratch a tiny furrow for a few yards with a dredge: but that is all.
Beebe didn’t go diving himself until he took delivery of a salvager’s diving helmet and pump in 1925. His first dive was during his Arcturus expedition to the Isla Galápagos. It seems amazing to us now that until Beebe’s first dives in the Pacific no scientist had described the experience and there were no photographs to ‘bring the wonders of the coral reef to life’. He really was, according to his biographer Carol Grant Gould, ‘ the first to study the rich life of the coral reefs up close with knowledge, curiosity and a well-stocked lab and staff behind him.’
The movement The Kingdom of the Helmet contains, like the first movement, six ‘signature moments’. The first moment is a little ragtime two-step that imagines Beebe telling his audience his Diving Instructions: ‘Just a bathing suit, rubber soled- shoes, a glass fronted helmet, a hand pump and hose’. He continues ‘there’s no practice required for this phase of life . . . and down you go into two, four, six fathoms (a fathom is 1.8 metres), swallowing as you descend to offset the pressure’. In the second, Beebe speaks about the amazing things you can do Submerged underwater, ‘I can lift a companion with the crook of my finger,’ he says. Then in Welcome the explorer fantasises about the activities you might get up to once submerged: painting, shooting and gardening. In the next two signature moments Beebe describes his zoological research visits Off Hawaii and to the Islas Galápagos making reference in the latter to the extraordinary colour changes the ‘venomous octopus’ can make. Finally he enthuses about the ‘increase of life, the brilliancy of colour and the joy of it all’. He reckons we are Natives not Strangers as we visit this ocean domain.
Whereas the first movement had a predominantly downward trajectory, the second is full of upward figures, melodic and harmonic. Each moment has somewhere embedded within it a quotation from my signature song setting of the poem Deep Sea Diver by Robert Francis. For those who like to play musical analysis I’ll collect together all the quotes in a later post and point them to the associated signature.
I’ve been thinking as I compose this music that it might be interesting to turn some of these signature moments into four-part instrumental pieces that could be played by brass, strings, or wind ensembles. I’ve mentioned this to my editor as a possible project he might like to help me with. My editor is a superlative arranger and I think these pieces would be a challenge! Watch this space.
Download Signature Moments [pdf] (right-click, Save As…)