Blog Piers Hellawell

Published on August 23rd, 2013 | by Liam McMahon


Latest blog from Piers Hellawell

And so back to the fray, after being broiled by sun and eaten by insects in Italy for a week; a few days of the cushioning climate of Belfast en route will re-condition your scribe to the Atlantic seaboard, as I exchange the mosquito for the Highland midge once more. Every time I arrive back from Italy it’s torrential downpour and leaden skies at Dublin Airport. Hapless holiday returners splash about in flip-flops and shorts, having completely forgotten they live in a monsoon zone.

Before returning to Scotland I must take a look at the skections, as I think of them, worked in July for BDK; I admit I didn’t have a creative thought about them in Italy – too hot. I open the software score and am aghast – gone! There is only the one section, the first of three worked last month. I do save work in progress periodically by Emailing to self, so various attached score files exist – so of course I go to the Emails, where to my horror I find only the same, truncated version from early on. Not only did I save at every stage but surely I opened the attachments to double-check. Major panic ensues, with BDK first try-out only two weeks hence. In a stroke of brilliance, my wife finds a Sibelius thing I’ve never used, File>Open recent file, and when I select the most distant available, there is the complete work from July.

Later I’m filming a talk video in the park (ok,, since you ask) with my graduate composer student Stephen. He sympathizes and says it’s always happening; it makes me think back guiltily to the many times students have traipsed in with sob-stories about having lost work on software, couldn’t recover latest version etc – so I resolve to be more understanding after this nightmare.

During these few days I also have to draw up a detailed description of my inside-the-piano stuff at the request of the Southbank Centre, in pursuit of that permission-to-enter-the-piano from last month. It’s quite useful to have to express exactly what I do and do not want; for example, I barely ‘prepare’ pianos in the sense of pre-attaching stuff to strings. I hope that will reassure them.

I pick up the next ‘quilt patchwork’ in this section and try to run with it, a rather agile bass part… but in the middle of getting back into it in Scotland, I have to relocate to Belfast again, more upheaval… and by this time the first BDK meeting is less than a week away! To remove one problem I was dreading, I get positive word from Rebecca at the Southbank Centre that my proposed inside-the-piano incursions (or Matt Bourne’s) have been ok’d at SBC. Better to have raised this now – and it’s something I can tick off the list.

A few Email contacts with the boys occur as I’m pulling together stuff for our first meeting. Dave jokes (I hope he’s joking! Irony is easily misread in Email…) that he’s happiest with the 4 open strings on bass – so I reply ‘I’ve taken that into account’, attaching a screen shot of the most difficult passage I can find. Steve requests (gulp) a prior look at the score, which he later says reminds him of Birtwistle’s Panic! Not wrong there. Meanwhile Matt sends me a link to buying toy pianos, which I thought of investigating; wow, I don’t think Moving On Music will handle an expenses claim for £130 for a piano with only 37 keys. That’s, er, £3.50 a note; I wish I got that. Instead I contact my old friend and collector of antiquities Marcus, whom I associate both with toy pianos AND Lion’s Roar, which I need in the fast music.

The most satisfaction in all this is finally notating in ink the graphic score of the BDK Overture, which I rule and set out meticulously with my invented squiggles. It’s back to the old days, both in the sense of using a pen and in what feel some quite nostalgic graphic ‘freedoms’ – very 70s. But it’s the best and only way to notate what I want. I hunt out some sand-paper from upstairs for a rustling sound I need, and then hear on the radio that, in a new Proms piece, the ‘huge array of percussion includes Lion’s Roar and sand-paper’. We’re obviously all going down the same groove.

A final poke around in the hall we’re using for our ‘encounter’ gives me a chance to revisit some of my sound experiments using toys and other implements, to which double bass and piano are very receptive… bizarrely, things which sounded great on one double bass in our store seem duff on another – and one of my incursions inside the piano does not excite me as it did last time. On the other hand, I try a new tuning-fork tremolo in the hidden recesses of the piano that is full of promise… After a bruising struggle with the photocopier, my materials are ready for tomorrow –  though no word yet about the possible Lion’s Roar and toy piano.

You can read Piers’ earlier blogs here.

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