My musical Friday

I had such an interesting day last Friday but I haven’t had a chance to write it up until now. I kicked off by meeting Ben Mawson at The Cowheards, a pub on the common close to Southampton University. Ben introduced me to his ongoing work Portrait of a City. He gave a me a cheap Android phone, with no sim card, and a pair of headphones (on the longest cable ever – pbviously made for sharing). The phone was running NoTOURS softwhere. It took a while to pick up enough GPS signals to get started, but when it did, he set me walking around the common. Using GPS he’d mapped a number of intercoking virtual circles across the common, and when I took the phone into one, the NoTOURS software would play a specific sound file for that circle. Stand where two circles intersect and you get both sounds played simultaneaously. The composer, Ben tells me, can code each sound to start quietly at the edge of the circle, and get louder as you get closer to the centrepoint, or play at a constant volume throughout the  circle. If you leave the circle, the composer can instruct the music to pick up where you left off, when you re-enter, or alternatively to restart.

Ben’s composition for the Common includes the work of a number of local schoolchildren, telling stories or making music. We didn’t have much time to explore, but Ben whisked me over of an old cemetry on the common (which is a must visit, by the way) and of couse the atmospheric music added to the experience of this minimally maintained landscape. We talked a bit about cultural heritage sites might use the technology, or commission compositions.

Then he drove me over to the main campus, where another part of Portrait of a City was waiting, this time a powerful composition based around an old poem, including an impromptue chior and amplified spring sounds overleaying the real sounds that filtered through the headphones.

Then it was on to meet Professor Jeanice Brooks at the music department. Jeanice has worked with the National Trust, and is very interested in domestic music. In the space of an hour she gave me the quickest Narrative Music 101 course ever (thank you Jeanice), and we discussed the wonderful possibilities of musical potential at National Trust sites.

She mentioned she was on television that evening, in a programme following the recreation of a regency ball in Jane Austin’s home village of Chawton. Then it was off to the library to seek out the “set text” on music and narrative, Claudia Gorbman’s Unheard Melodies.

This is an old (and in my case worn) book, dating from 1987, but to someone like me, its a perfect introduction. I’ve already learned about diegetic music (where musicians are playing in the story, or charcters are listening to the radio for example), nondiegetic music (where as she says “an orchestra plays as coyboys chase indians upon the desert”) and metadiegegtic music (where we hear a character “remember” a bit of music). She also talk about themes, and what Wagner called “motifs or reminisence.” Every thing I read, every single thing, reminds me of the music in a film or TV programme, and now I can’t stop making connections with the book whenever I watch TV. Last night for example, at the end of Game of Thrones, after (spoilers!) Jamie Lanister returned to save Brienne of Tarth from the bare, the nondiegetic music was an instrumental version on a song we’d heard last series, The Rains of Castamere. We had learned back then that the song was an example of the way the Lannisters always repay their debts, and here we were watching Jamie repay his debt to Brienne. Clever.

I have an entirely unreasonable aversion to Jane Austin, which isn’t something to be proud of, considering the industry I work in, but I after I returned home from the library, I caught some of the programme Jeanice was in. Its great, I watched it again with my daughter the next day. Its only on line for another four days, but catch it if you can.