Spoken Mirror

October 13, 2015 in featured, guest blog by newmusicscotland

mcfarSpoken Mirror – is the project that Allon Beauvoisin and I created to channel some of our energies into a more free flowing and open musical environment where we contrast acoustic and electronic sounds and textures. In part the idea was to take us away from some of the more traditional places that you might have heard us in before like Allon’s ‘Brass Jaw’ or my ‘Scottish Guitar Quartet’. Our fascination with the implications of how current digital technology could be used to create a new sonic context is a big part of us coming together. Despite the fact that Allon plays an acoustic instrument, the baritone saxophone, he is a real driving force in always looking to the next step in the use of electronics so there’s much more to come too!

We began with some individually composed pieces, ran through them and then looked at how we could then incorporate some of the latest apps that we’d found for our iPads – this produced some good results and we did a couple of gigs to gauge how well this translated to a live situation. As usual this prompted more questions, some rethinking and, of course, many more conversations of what we were ‘about’ and were trying to achieve and how we might do it!

Then, thankfully, we had a bit of a breakthrough moment when I showed Allon some of the work by a great friend of mine, the artist George Birrell.  Not too surprisingly Allon was knocked out by what he saw and dropped an interesting bit of info from his past, that he’d done quite a lot of visual work prior to deciding to focus more on music! So with that in mind we came up with the idea of using George’s paintings in some way to create a film for us to then compose a ‘spontaneous’ soundtrack to. After more meetings (this time with George too who was super excited about the whole thing) then a good chunk of time for Allon (he’s a very busy man!) to come up with some visuals based on deconstructing and re-inventing the paintings in some short ‘movies’. These were later connected into a sequence for the whole work.GB lo res

When Allon came back with his ideas both George and myself were blown away with what we saw. He’d managed to create short films (each based on an individual painting) that variously contained: movement, abstractions, emotions, different atmospheres, even some mystery and an occasional narrative here and there but all had a really great vibe to them. These were perfect as a new way of looking at George’s paintings and ideal, and ‘open’ enough, for sparking lots of different soundtrack moods that we could create on the spot. We recorded some demos and we were considerably encouraged that this was a project that would continue to bear fruit.

Next we had to try this out live and figure out the technical side of showing the finished film to an audience whilst also having monitors so that we could do our ‘thing’ too (our improvisations are reactions to the film so we need to see it in real time). Allon’s tenacity and technical skill triumphed (although each live venue, with different kit, made for some stressful pre-gig moments!). We’d decided initially to work with a couple of preconceived musical ideas so that we had a ‘fall back’ position just in case inspiration didn’t descend upon us but after the first gig was under our belt we reverted to a much more free approach with the absolute minimum of any kind of ‘script’ to follow – this resulted in gig 2 being, for both us, some of the most enjoyable music making in years with our 35 minute film sequence feeling like about 5 minutes. Thankfully the audiences had a good time too with the overall experience being a very chilled one! Some of one demo recordings are on our Facebook page.


So, where are we at now? Well, for this particular Festival we’ll be without the film (due to time restrictions) but we’ll give the musical flavour of what we do by doing improvising with some of the themes, concepts and musical ideas that were used for the project.

Oh yes, just in case you’re wondering about our name. We spent a long time discussing this too needless to say. We tried to find a name that didn’t have any particular connotation genre-wise so that we could go wherever we wanted to, that didn’t really relate to other contexts that you might find us in and one that, hopefully, nobody else has used.

Malcolm MacFarlane – Edinburgh 12/10/15

Spoken Mirror is part of the New Music Scotland In Cahoots Conference and Showcase at 4pm, 24th October. More information on the full programme available here: http://www.newmusicscotland.co.uk/conference2015-programme/