Jim Pinchen talks about composing for Stopgap
Composer Jim Pinchen writes a blog explaining how he created the music for scene two of Stopgap’s new production Artificial Things
So, on being asked to write a short blog by Stopgap on the music creation my section of Artificial Things I thought I’d go back to the long threads of exchanges between Lucy Bennett and myself back in September 2013. Having worked with many different choreographers I would say that some choreographers have mathematic or scientific brains. The body and capabilities of their dancers mapped out well in advance and a skeleton of movement drafted before a single step in the studio takes place. Other choreographers in contemporary dance use music as background noise with the movement often finishing minutes before or after the music has ended. (an approach I never quite understood!).
I would say Lucy is different, she is inspired by themes, styles and concepts but creates her best work by allowing time for ideas to be explored, to fail, to succeed, to morph and to take new directions. Stopgap also has a fantastic open ethos that encourages dancers, critical friends, colleagues and artists to have a voice in their work. I believe all of this is a crucial approach when working with highly skills dancers but who have a diverse range of physical abilities. For a composer this requires patience, a willingness to try new things and an acceptance that music you create is likely to often be thrown out, developed or subverted before it is embedded. As much as it’s a challenge I always feel a valued part of the creative process and the legendary Stopgap warmth, tea and cake always makes you feel part of a family.
From the outset the brief for my section of Artificial Things lay somewhere between sound design and composition and with roots in something retro, heavily subverted, slightly twisted, melancholy and quirky… It was always going to be an interesting project….
For the first phrase for Dave Toole’s entrance we use a fantastic track by 70’s group Family. The mix of harmonica, beautifully growling vocal and rootsy blues lends itself perfectly to flashes of Elvis, gospel and a raging preacher. My work with this track mainly involved mixing in a variety of audio clips, remixing and distorting the audio with a range of digital effects so that by the end the track breaks and disintegrates.
The next section that we called ‘Slow mo bad behavior’ was a little more challenging. The trick here was to keep the retro and quirky feel but present the audience with a difference feel, something more modern, ambient and trippy. By the end I presented Lucy with over 15 different variations. The sounds are ambient, atonal and non-specific. The audio clips perfectly summarising Stopgap’s character and love of retro media.
Then we have what Lucy and I refer to as ‘A Plateful of Jim’, an up-tempo track that aims to personify the company’s theatrical, circus-esq and humorous side. Here, I unashamedly tried to pull together the music genres I know appeal to my choreographer! Big horns, jazz piano, old TV samples, gospel organs and surfing guitars.
After the very beautiful Nina Simone track for Chris’ solo, we head into the finale. The original idea was to reference the music of the other composer’s within Artificial Things but this ended up being unpractical for technical reasons. The pieces all have a very different feel, style, tempo and this was confounded by the background noise of the fan that is active (and quite loud!) on stage. So the brief for this section was to create something to finalise the piece, something soft, reflective and beautiful. In order to achieve this I had to take into account the noise of the fan, knowing that this sound would be obvious against a lone instrument such as a piano. I decided to record the sound of the fan and create a sound bed of the same frequency and pitch. To lead us into this we start with the relentless, traveling sound of railway tracks that have been tempo synced to the track, then the fan ambience and over the top of this the finale piano piece.
To summarise, it’s been an experience and a pleasure work on what I believe is Stopgap’s greatest work to date.