On Monday 5 March the East Riding Music Centre’s Percussion Ensemble met for their first rehearsal of Blaze with composer Nigel Morgan and the four post-graduate students from the University of Hull’s Filey Studios in Scarborough.
The composition of Blaze has already featured in two of the composer’s diary entries during January. It’s a five-movement piece for eight percussionists playing over 50 different instruments and has an optional part for electroacoustic sounds. The sonic layer of this piece has been imagined as sounds for a ninth percussionist playing a MIDI trigger drum pad. Hitting this drum pad with a drum stick send a signal direct to a computer that has a collection of some sixty samples lined up in sequence – when one sample is triggered the next is ‘cued’ to become ready for the next ‘hit’ of drumstick on the pad.
Although Blaze can be played as a complete sequential piece in context of the performance of Shoals, the collection of six new works for student performers, its five movements have been arranged to act as interludes between the other five new pieces.
The electronic setup for this work seemed to work quite flawlessly from start to finish. The only slight problem we encountered was knowing precisely where the samples should be triggered. Although the score does indicate a possibly scenario for placing electroacoustic sounds this is very much a starting point or guide for the collaborating electroacoustic composer(s). Nigel Morgan and the Hull University students worked in the studio with a reference MIDI recording of the percussion part to try out possible sounds and their placement. During that process some of the original ‘sonic points or interventions’ where changed, often to allow these often dramatic proposed sounds to have proper space to sound out. The same principles that tend to govern the use of ‘heavy’ percussion sounds such as a bass drum and tam-tam apply to the kind of sounds chosen for Blaze.
In addition to the integration of the sounds themselves will be their placement or diffusion. In the performance at Hull City Hall this diffusion is to be handled by Dr Rob Mackay director of Filey Studios. Although the electroacoustic sounds were imagined as coming from within the ensemble itself there will also be certain continuous textures that ‘move’ outwards from the percussion instruments into and around the hall.