This Saturday, Nick Morrish Rarity’s the traces that remain for gramophones and ensemble will be performed for the first time. With the premiere just a few days away, he gave us an insight into what the work is all about.
It feels very strange to be writing about the traces that remain. I have relatively few memories of its composition, outside of initial hazy sonic impressions, and then arriving at LSO St Luke’s a month or so ago to hear the piece workshopped by a wonderful group of musicians.
Traces is written for shellac discs (a precursor to the vinyl record), gramophones, ensemble and sine waves. The piece is an exploration of the gramophone as a dream-object, a means of communicating with the past, experiencing the present, and preparing for the future. Sounds of raw electricity, industry and organic bodies are combined with mechanically amplified acoustic instruments (such as the stroh violin) to create a kind of assemblage – a mosaic of memories, with the surface of the shellac discs both revealing and distorting the voices involved in the story of recorded sound.
Excerpt from the score of the traces that remain
Over the past few years, I have become increasingly drawn to the surface sound of sonic media – from the optical sound strip on film prints, to the brittle sound of shellac, vinyl and tape. I believe that there is great beauty to be found in the surface of each disc. They are unique expressions of the physical bodies involved in their manufacture – from the laccifer lacca insects which produce the raw shellac resin, to the mechanical lathes that etch sound into these organic discs. For traces, I am creating my own shellac discs with the hope of collapsing the distance between the material and matter of these discs. I want to allow these sounds to rub alongside each other, to be overlaid and recombined, and represented as one sonic image whilst maintaining their separable identities.
Working with the gramophones has been a bit of a revelation for me, particularly in helping me to explore new working methods. In traces, I wanted to dream, to create overlapping windows of sound that may appear to have little association, and that do not conform to any preconceived formal logic. I became much less interested in a ‘bound’ work, and more so in an experience which is multi-dimensional, and that does not need clear boundaries or definition.
At the outset, I knew that I wanted to make a distinction between the gramophone and turntable practices. Gramophones are hand-cranked and they need to be cared for and serviced in performance, so I decided to resist working with any kind of record manipulation. Aleks Kolkowski, who will be operating the gramophones, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of early recording technologies, and has been so generous in spending many fun-filled hours listening to early recordings. I particularly loved hearing early test oscillator records, and foley recordings, which recreate environmental sounds under studio conditions. Hearing these fascinating early recordings proved to be a great source of inspiration for my own approach to creating shellac discs, which draws on a great variety of sound sources – from close mic’d recordings of insects, to the sounds of reels, cogs and industrial fans. In working with the machines in this way, the gramophones are being presented as noise-producers, with raw and untreated environmental sound being combined within an ambient framework provided by the instrumental group and sine waves.
Soundhub is a rare and precious opportunity. This work would simply have never been possible without the support of the LSO. The scheme has been utterly brilliant in giving all of the composers involved the space to ask questions, to think and rethink, and to daydream. Most excitingly, there is so much more that I am hoping to explore following on from traces, and I cannot thank the LSO enough for the opportunity to begin this journey. I really hope that some of you who are reading this, or attending the concert at LSO St Luke’s on Saturday 14 July, are thinking about applying for this year’s scheme. If you’re interested in hearing the piece, here is a short ‘mosaic of a mosaic’ to give you a taste of traces …
the traces that remain recieves its premiere this Saturday 14 July at LSO St Luke's. Click here to find out more and book tickets
The LSO is currently recruiting for our 2018 LSO Soundhub and Jerwood Composer+ schemes. Applications close at midday on Wednesday 18 July. Click here to find out more