Hurrah! “To a Swallow” is at last complete!
Hurrah! “To a Swallow” is at last complete!
After several drafts, I completed “On the Nature and Purpose of Art”. The essay explains what I understand art to be and proposes a working definition: Art is the stylisation of essential elements from reality in Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture to create an eloquent representational or abstract work that is not merely a reproduction, recording, documentation, illustration or decoration of reality but a transformation of it, imbued with meaning.
I intend to demystify the subject of art in a series of informal essays. Next, I want to investigate what informs an artist’s work. I want to answer, for example, what draws an artist to a certain theme and subject, and to a certain medium and technique. Why does the musician choose one genre over another? Why does the painter paint in this style and not that? I want, in fine, to discover “Why Artists Create What They Create” (my working title).
Finding the perfect words with which to clearly and concisely express an idea in rhyming iambic verse is no easy task. The four verses of “The Robin-chat” took a considerable amount of time to complete for that very reason, as did the two verses of “Zephyros”. Its original title was “The Pines”, a lyrical ballad about trees moving in the wind; but the more I worked on the poem, the more its focus shifted from the trees to the wind itself.
Eventually, it was clear that the wind must be the subject, and so I drew inspiration from an earlier work: the couplet I composed for The Zephyr and the Swallow. The zephyr is, of course, the literary description of a gentle breeze. It comes from the Greek Ζεφυρος (transliterated as “Zephyros”), the personification of the west wind (and also of spring), which prompted a new approach to the subject (and from which I took the new title).
Unsurprisingly, this significantly altered the nature of the poem. Most challenging was the task of matching the second verse to the first (with which I was pleased early on) to satisfactorily conclude the composition. I came, at last, to two versions of the second verse. The first had an expansive quality (first line: “His ballad blows across the land…”), whereas the second felt more intimate (first line: “A sonnet sounding sweetly…”).
My chief difficulty was that both of these worked. I would eventually choose the latter, only to change my mind shortly thereafter. At the time I tweeted “[T]he verse I have rejected is, in fact, the one I must choose!” (27 July 2018). I am now confident in my decision, and the poem has become one of my favourites—but then, so are they all. I am now revising the first of three poems dedicated to swallows, a subject of which I shall never tire.
The goal of my work is to extol the beauty of nature—the fleeting and near insignificant moments that seem to affect me most. The familiarly beautiful in my rural surroundings evoke within me a sense of awe that I must endeavour to capture in poetry and music. This is the essence of my artistic vision, a subject I consider in the “Context Matters” blog post. In its closing paragraph, I restate my artistic vision and adopt a new caption.
Previously “Ambient idylls”, I now describe my work as “Idylls in music and poetry”. I elaborate upon my meaning in a social media post dedicated to the matter thus: “It is my view that Man should not be silent when moved by the grandeur of Nature, that he should burst out in adoration, if his disposition allows it, and extol what he observes in art! This is what Forgotten Fields has become—an act of adoration!” (26 July 2018).
This is part two of a three-part series about the new self-titled album. Read “A New Album, Part One: The Poem”, here.
“Verse One”, the first track from the self-titled album.
I started work on the music as soon as the theme of the poem became clear. Already in December 2016, I had put together a collection of sketches, early experiments with melodies and instrumentation based on the direction the poetry was taking. When at last I had the final draft of the poem, I turned my attention to the sketches. I began by deciding which of them to develop into complete tracks, focusing on the ideas that were most in line with the poetry; and since there were six verses, I conceived of an album with six tracks: a series of movements to correspond with the verses of the poem.
The poem played a central role in the writing of the music and the naming the tracks. As with The Zephyr and the Swallow, where the poetry inspired the music and the tracks took their titles directly from the lines, I looked to the verses to inform my creative decisions. I therefore followed in the compositions where the poem led. I named each track after the number of the verse it described, which resulted in the sequential “Verse One”, “Verse Two”, “Verse Three”, and so on. This helped reinforce the track-verse connection and emphasised the importance of the poetry.
Like the verses, each track went through scores of rewrites as I wrestled with track form, instrumentation and melodies. I would spend days on an idea only to discard it and then reintroduce it later. Two of the tracks changed structure in addition to receiving brand new parts as late as the final mixing phase! Often, things I thought were cast in stone, had to be altered or abandoned for the sake of a better solution. There were countless interpretations of melodies and renditions of musical phrases, each experimenting with different instrumentation and degrees of embellishment or simplification.
All the while, I had to be vigilant not to overcomplicate the music because I wanted to retain an ambient quality. For this reason, it was important to tread the fine line between “soundscape” and “soundtrack”—how much compositional drama could I use before the music stopped being “ambient”?—the goal was to stay faithful to the poetry without being overly descriptive or orchestral. I tried to achieve this by using only a handful of instruments, relying on minimal compositions to bring the melodies to life. The music, therefore, does its best to sweep one along with the simplest instrumentation.
Building the music around the poem brought a natural cohesion to the album. As the tracks progressed, the scenes, thoughts and emotions conveyed in the lines slowly emerged in the music. Gradually, the compositions began to reflect the substance of the poetic verses, the sketches becoming with every revision the lyrical pieces I had envisioned, months before. The main themes I set to woodwinds, keyboards and guitars, and accompanied them with synthesisers and strings. The result is a vivid expression of the lines of the poem, the music wistful and musing with moments of joy and regret.
Once the compositions were complete, recording went smoothly. The album is a combination of digital and real instruments. For the latter, I worked with session musicians, artists with an intuitive understanding of what I was trying to achieve and consequently, how their parts needed to be played. I decided to use real instruments, especially for the flutes and English Horn because there are nuances in woodwinds that are difficult to reproduce digitally. Working with session musicians brought home to me the beauty of the real instrument and I am convinced that the recordings are better for it.