About ‘Why Scotland, Why East Kilbride’

I’ve been calling myself a ‘composer’ for about twenty years now, starting from when I went back to music college as a trumpet player but got sidetracked into writing music instead of playing it. On my website you’ll find early pieces like ‘Rate-limiting Step’ for cello & harp, or ‘Studies of Nucleate Boiling in Thin Liquid Layers (Part 1)’ for chamber ensemble. This is what people usually think of when I say I’m a ‘composer’: someone who writes contemporary score-based music for classically trained instrumentalists to play.

Yes, I’ve done a lot of that: but over the years it’s come to seem less and less interesting to me. For a number of years now, I’ve been working in a way which is much more akin to devised theatre, or even performance art. For a start, I hardly ever write the music down now, or if I do, it’s just fragments, starting points. By convention, a contemporary classical composer is expected to put everything in the score: the written score is the piece of music. You could post it off to an ensemble anywhere from Albuquerque to Zhytomyr, turn up a week later, and boom, there’s the piece being played.

Or at least, that’s the theory. But, take the very first work in my catalog, ‘The Knowing of Things Together’. It’s ‘scored’ for didjeridu, three flutes, three trombones, conga drums & two wine bottles (red). Already, there’s a problem: that’s not a standard ensemble! So, actually, no-one is ever going to play this piece, apart from the people I was working with back then. So, really, the music is what the musicians and I actually did on that occasion, rather than anything I might write down.

Fast forward. The piece that’s about to come to fruition, ‘Why Scotland, Why East Kilbride’, started life as a dream. This happens to me a lot: I’m a musician, after all, and I have dreams where I hear a piece of music. Quite often when I wake up I can remember at least some of it: I rush to write it down or even just sing it into my phone before it goes.

The piece I heard on this occasion – it was the morning of the 3 June 2012 – seemed to be for… a rock band? Plus a section of orchestral French horns?!?

Made some notes, forgot about it. Couple of days later, aimlessly surfing around as you do, I stumbled upon this 1972 public information film about East Kilbride. Suddenly a whole chunk of memory descended upon me. I remembered the two different times in my life when I lived in East Kilbride, particularly a period in the eary 80s where I was busy dropping out of an ill-advised science degree at university, listening to a lot of Hawkwind, and teaching myself to play guitar. Suddenly, the dream made sense: I knew what I was listening to, I knew what it was all about.

And the Ted Edwards stuff? A misdirection, perhaps. Edward ‘Teddy’ Edwards is a fictional alter ego of mine. He’s the person I would have liked to have been if I’d been born forty years earlier: he’s Raymond Scott, he’s Daphne Oram, he’s my dad’s golfing buddy who owned a radio shop, he’s Erik Satie. Or maybe he’s a complete unknown: he’s Ziggy Elman, he’s the guy who first came up with the npn-pnp astable multivibrator circuit, he’s some guy who’s into birdwatching.

He’s a useful vehicle: someone I can have in my show, someone who might have been in East Kilbride in 1972, might have played in a rock band, might have had a day job as a chemist at the National Engineering Laboratory. Someone who might, after all, be a composer.

Kind of.

 

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