In the heat of scribbling furiously on to manuscript paper, it’s easy to lose track of time — a process my first music tutor referred to, curiously, as “wood shedding”. Bethia, my commission for Hull City of Culture 2017 — my wooden shed — is progressing steadily, but the music itself is asking questions about time and how we as listeners perceive the inevitable elapse, or progression, of it.
Throughout the piece, I’m using the principles of both free and multiply-directed time, and because the piece also utilises visual projection, my headaches have had headaches. While free time is self-explanatory (once one loses the connotations of recess), the principle of multiply-directed time is one of those phrases likely to be read on the now-removed Composition Bullshit Generator: it is the process of viewing a single event from multiple perspectives, both in sequence and/or simultaneously. In this case, it takes the form of multiple musical variations that follow one another, and/or overlay one another.
The difficulty inherent in the composition of Bethia is that I must develop a means of allowing the music to breathe and function as it ought to, without becoming bogged down by the demands of film and music synchronisation — a process accurate to within 0.083 seconds in commercial film. This means that the visuals must have enough tolerance to allow for the expansion of time (i.e. film footage can play for longer if a performer takes longer than anticipated to complete a phrase) while being projected by a system that allows for the contraction of time (e.g. software that can transition between footage upon a musical cue, not a strict, time-based cue).
My search for appropriate film footage has lead me to Sue, Graham and Megan at Yorkshire Film Archive. As well as being a skilled and accommodating team, YFA has a large collection of Hull-related footage from various periods throughout the 20th century, which plays wonderfully into Bethia’s use of multiply directed time: multiple perspectives of the same event, or — in this instance — city.
I’m working with the BFI to plan a projection array that can facilitate both free and multiply-directed time. Currently, we’re experimenting with a primary projector and four carousels, that is to say a single projector of motion picture and four projectors of still frames. These will be aligned in such a way that images can overlay one another, or play in sequence across the interior surfaces of the venue — bathing the venue in light and moving images.
There is still a long way to go, but the piece is already a profound representation of my feelings towards my hometown, and my ideals and hopes for its future. This film, Humber Highway, gives a sense of the visual material Bethia encompasses and I’d thoroughly recommend a look through the YFA online archive and its incredible resources.