Preparing to go and workshop some new material with Scottish violin-cello duo High Heels and Horse Hair, the first advice they sent was, naturally, about footwear: leave the high heels at home and bring walking boots, as we’ll be working in an ecobuild bothy above Loch Tay and below Ben Lawers surrounded by an interested population of sheep. We spent several days working on a new programme (whose performances begin in Glasgow from November) which will explore the relationship between sound and darkness, alongside a night-time listening environment created by lighting designer Kai Fischer.
My music, at this moment still a set of twelve sketches, contains a great deal of extended string techniques appropriate to the hushed atmosphere of nocturnal listening. It’s such a rare privilege to be able to rehearse hour by hour, almost note by note, and to discuss technical issues one by one as they arise (and with very committed interested instrumentalists, of course). When I was regularly involved in formal teaching at college level I often felt disquiet about what was going to happen in composition workshops – typically given by visiting professional groups in a big rush to get through technically-knotty compositions by six or seven student composers in three hours. Inevitably you began to counsel students to go for the safe, historically tested technical solutions. Painstaking exploration of which harmonics really work, or where exactly to bow the tailpiece was the last thing that could happen with so much music needing a playthrough and recording in a single session. To have had several days of continuous time all to myself with two musicians has been a remarkable, counter-intuitive experience.