It Happened Here is a Slung Low audio/installation adventure set in Holbeck, Leeds, which opened in August 2016.
It Happened Here was a surprisingly freeing project to work on; usually my work is underscoring dialogue or action, either as live theatre or onscreen, and synchronisation with these events is a high priority – synchronisation of tone, emotion, pace, volume and complexity. This synchronisation can be quite strict, as in the case of much of my animation work, or fairly fluid in the case of promenade theatre. Nonetheless, there are always ‘sync-points’ to hit.
In It Happened Here, there were spaces in the script where music happened; however, the only brief for each section was simply a title, and sometimes a little description from one of the characters on how they felt about that particular title (attempting not to give away any spoilers here!).
Even the durations were deliberately left quite vague – for all but one movement of music, they were somewhere between 1 and 3 1/2 minutes for each.
So… the music was to last as long as I (or the music, I’m still never quite sure) wanted.
I haven’t written like this in years. Even when I sketch themes for work in advance of a show or in pre-production for a film based on the script or a director’s brief, each sketch will be under a minute in length, and it’ll get to the point pretty quickly. None of this developing of motifs or gentle building atmosphere that you often need to do under dialogue or onscreen action.
Part of me was a little wary of having such a free brief. I like to bounce and push against the boundaries of a specific project’s requirements – those restrictions force a level of creativity that really gets the grey matter firing in quite an addicting way. It’s a problem solving exercise – how do I fit the music into a specific time frame, synchronising to specific moments, whilst still creating something that could still be described (sometimes in the broadest definition) as a coherent musical piece. And I do love a problem solving exercise, I think it’s just how I’m wired…
In summary – those sync-points are a handy little crutch, a pre-arranged structure on which to hang the tunes. It Happened Here was different – no crutches at all (apart from one little bit of underscored dialogue towards the end, but… spoilers! Sorreeee.).
I wasn’t surprised (after the first day of writing some really dire stuff that will never see the light of day, essential part of the process and all that etc. etc.) to find that I really relished the opportunity to just write.
One of the most common question I get asked is whether I write just for myself; not for a brief or a project or a commission but just for the hell of it, I’ve-got-a-tune-in-my-head-that-I-gotta-get-down situation.
I don’t. I wonder if that’s sad sometimes… I used to when I was younger – in my teens and early 20s, I’d write violin duets for my sister and I, and pieces that might make there way onto demo CDs… but even for these two random examples there appears to be purpose. This music had a function outside of existing just for its own sake (violin duets = social, demo music = finding work), so maybe I’ve never just written just to write – an interesting revelation to me just typing this out.
In chatting with a lovely new friend very recently, he suggested that it’s because I might prefer to be involved in (or at least instigate) something bigger than just myself and my tunes, and that it was more rewarding to me to have the piece be in service of, and add value to, that bigger thing. Maybe he’s right.
Anyways, less of the psychoanalysis and back to It Happened Here – it was chuffing glorious to write with such a free brief and I enjoyed it immensely… making me think I could seek out similar opportunities in future, something with a purpose above and beyond itself – in this case working with my fave people, the promotion and inclusion of an oft-overlooked part of Leeds, and entertaining a wide, diverse and on-going group of people – but with a much looser requirement for synchronisation. Maybe. We’ll see.
It’s designed to be listened to whilst wandering the environs of Holbeck so, if you’re ever at The HUB for a show or whatever, do add in an extra hour or so before to do the tour.
Alternatively, you can listen to it elsewhere and it’ll still make sense. Download it to your phone or mp3 player of choice and listen at your leisure…
The lovely John Hunter wrote it, the quiet technical genius of Matt Angove recorded and sound designed it, and logistical organisational heroes Alan Lane and Sally Proctor produced it. Direction was a magnificent all-hands-on-deck scenario on this occasion and I received brilliant notes and feedback from all concerned (big thanks you guys 🙂 ).
I took the pictures. Please don’t nick them. Not that you would, obvs. See more of them here.
For the next month or so I’m working on two new pieces of theatre in Leeds. They’re completely unrelated, but my gigs do have a tendency to clump geographically, as random things are apt to. I try not to read anything into it but my irrational neo-cortex doesn’t half like inferring deep meaning into patterns where there are none… but I digress…
Blackthorn plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 13-17th September; so, this week, based on the initial brief from director Jacqui Holness-Martin and the script by Charley Miles, I’m sketching a few ideas for music styles or themes… which is a fancy way of saying that I’m throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
I’ve got three quite stylistically different sketches already written, with potential ideas for two more. It’s an odd process of plucking notions from thin air and trying to pin it down with the synths and samplers I’ve already got, or concocting ambiences and atmospheres that may or may not make it into the palette of the show’s sound design, all the while trying to head off that niggling, insistent, internal voice that likes to state, upon hearing the first tentative note, in no uncertain terms, that it’s, “shit and no-one would want to listen to it never mind it being completely inappropriate for the show and did you even read the brief and maybe you should go and make a cuppa and have a biscuit and really think about what you’ve done with your life-“. And so on.
Then, ignoring the chatter, I’ll write a few more notes and harmonies and add another instrument or three and she starts to come around, that, “maybe it’s not so bad and actually it’s quite nice and maybe you could take it off on a tangent here-“. What a chattering little monkey that inner voice is. Bless.
Then next week, for two weeks, I’m working with Slung Low on It Happened Here, an audio tour/installation around Holbeck, launched on 17th September. The audio is completely pre-recorded dialogue, sound and music. It’ll be available to download and listen to as you are led by the story on a walking tour of Holbeck – and in theory it could also be a standalone radio play of sorts (no pressure for the lovely writer, John Hunter, then!). Though the launch isn’t ’til the 17th, the bulk of my work must be finished by the 26th August after which I’m back on Blackthorn, so I don’t have time to mess around – I’m very much looking forward to ignoring that nay-saying little voice. No second-guessing allowed as we’ve got to hit the ground running!
Back to Blackthorn and rehearsals for two-and-a-bit weeks and then the show is on – first night is the 13th. It’s a beautiful debut script, gentle and funny and contemporary all at the same time, so should be a joy to work on. That little chattering monkey better take a back seat ‘cos I’ll have even less time for her.
After that there’s a couple of days grace just in case It Happened Here needs any last minute tweaks before launch, and then… me and Ms Monkey Chatter can get back to nattering.