Music for Surprising Spaces – Pt II

The Band and the Shoot

This blog is about choosing the right ‘space’ and some of that more ‘human’ stuff, which you might have started to forget about, you know?.. Like, interactions with real people, in real life.

A huge thank you to Elixir Strings for making this all possible.

Setting the scene…

The 19th of July, in the UK, was being dubbed freedom day. It was also the day, or in fact the morning, of filming ‘Music for Surprising Spaces’. The venue ‘Boscombe Pier’ in Bournemouth was looking stunning, the sun was shinning, the wind was as subtle as a calm breath…. and crucially everyone who was playing or working on this had turned up.

Have a listen to the space… (thanks to Dan Henry video and audio guru  for this audio and many of the pics.)

A quick interjection….If this is the first of the project you’ve read.. here’s a summary…

‘Music For Surprising Spaces’ is a series of compositions I wanted to create based on and using the sounds of the surrounding spaces. A composition for guitar ensemble, performed in the space, including the space and taking into account the space. My first one has been commissioned by the amazing Elixir Strings.

When I took on this project and once I had worked through some of the more obvious logistics like how on earth can I amplify this band? See the previous ‘blog’ for an insight into that and the wonderful ‘Boss Cube Street II’. I had to get to work on choosing the venue and in turn choosing the players…

People and Place…

The two go hand in hand,  firstly choosing players from Edinburgh whilst filming in Penzance is pretty silly for everyone involved and secondly; the space, the place, the people are all part of the same package. So recruiting people who are connected to the space is important…

Bournemouth is a very special place to me. I see it as my home, even though it’s not right now. The beach there is a picture of perfection, it’s the stereo typical image of ‘beachness’. The pier has a British seaside town identity. It’s a space with character and vibe. The sound?… well if you have ever closed your eyes on a beach you’ll know that the mix of waves, sea gulls, and  that human hubbub are something that has a nostalgia like no other.

I’ll get more into how that sound incorporated into the music another time… but the scene is set, its the perfect venue, choice made.

Now challenge number two is getting permission to film, yup you have to do that ya know, and permission to have access.

Why? Well aside from the boring admin bit which you just have to do, I needed the space relatively to ourselves. Picture this… ‘Dave and Sandra on holiday from Hertfordshire talking loudly about Brexit’,  its not what I want to capture as they walk past our field recorders. Ambient human hubab is good, but loud Brexit rants or family fallouts, not so cool, it really spoils the vibe man… So the pier needs to be shut when we film… simple, but not so simple.

After some helpful friends pointing me in the right direction, an extra special thank you to Andrea Francis here, I ended up liaising with BCP (thats Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole for those who care) Council. Jess on the events team, was an absolute star and made the process as painless as possible. A fair few quid for a licence later, a risk assessment and then another risk assessment, or two, later and we have exclusive access and permission. Yipeeee.

Now for the players….

I chose four of the finest guitar players, who all love Elixir Strings, from the surrounding area. Some of whom are my closest friends some of whom it was the first time I ever met them in real life. But each and everyone of them played their part wonderfully and brought bucket loads of personality and joy to the performance. I of course didn’t know truly if that would be the case on the day, but it was. The first play through was the best, having that connection of ‘playing together’ was so amazing after so long and the mix of ‘new’ and ‘old’ friends made it even more special and human. It was a beautiful experience.

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to all them for every note they played. Thank you. … also thank you for arriving on time when every second counts… asking musicians to get to the beach before 6am is a tall order and if a single one was late or had over slept it would have been a genuine disaster.

This ladies and gents is ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ line up for this rather wonderful project… Check em out.

Meryl Hamilton:

Guitarist Meryl Hamilton from the rock band Voodoo Vegas, has performed in 15 countries around the world, supporting notable acts such as Joe Satriani, Status Quo, Gilby Clarke (Guns ‘n’ Roses), Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Y&T and many more. Meryl is a full-time guitar teacher, teaching 200 students across 6 schools on the south coast of England. Sponsored by Blackstar, Orange Amps and PRS Guitars. Voodoo Vegas have released 3 albums, recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios and Los Rosales Studio near Madrid.

Will McNicol:

Will has performed relentlessly throughout his career and has given concerts up and down the UK and abroad. Whether it be headlining his own solo shows, performing at festivals, or supporting world-renowned artists such as Pierre Bensusan, Clive Carroll, Jon Gomm, Martin Simpson and Mumford and Sons amongst others, his performances have been described as “beautifully flawless” and “magical” by the music press. Having toured, performed, workshopped and given masterclasses in the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Zimbabwe and China, Will has also made appearances including multiple concerts and workshops at one of Africa’s biggest music festivals – The Harare International Festival of Arts.

Tom Power:

Tom Power is a Dorset-based singer/songwriter and acoustic guitarist with a passion for writing and performing his own music. He takes inspiration from the world around him and enjoys creating music around the themes of nature, optimism and introspective experience.

Paul Francis:

Paul Francis is an Electric/Upright Bass player and backing vocalist and Teacher from Camden Town North London. His Cv includes: Paul Weller Midge Ure London Beat,The James Taylor Quartet Omar,Ian Hunter Paul Gilbert Bernie Marsden and many more.

TV appearances have included Top of the Pops & various others around the Globe. He is currently putting the finishing touches to the 2nd CD for his fusion band. Paul also continues playing live both as a dep for other projects including “Kind of Blue The Miles Davis story”  and as Band Leader for The Blues Associates and The Capricon 1 fusion Band, in venues across the U.K. as well as composing for various online music libraries and teaching.


Music for Surprising Spaces

I’ve had this idea bouncing round my brain for a long time now. Music For Surprising Spaces…

A composition for a guitar ensemble that is performed for, and, in, a space. So the sounds from that space are part of the composition.

I’m very happy to say Elixir Strings have commissioned the project. It’s unique in so many ways making this composition; making the film, finding the artists, performing and recording outside even… finding the right space, getting the permission. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the challenges, the cool bits, the frustrating bits… a kind of ‘this is how I did it’. I hope you enjoy reading.

Part 1…   The Gear and Rehearsal.

First off… its important to grasp what this project is about. The composition, which you’ll eventually hear, is written to include the sounds of the surrounding space. Get it?.. so the ‘noises’ that occur naturally. At this point I don’t want to reveal the venue/space just yet, but Im sure you can understand every space has a sound… sometimes the sound is obvious… a river, a busy coffee house for example, or sometimes its more subtle. That sound is part of the music in this project, and it also inspires the parts I compose.

So, with all that in mind… it’s important that we avoid anything that isn’t fully authentic, as much as possible i.e. miming, or in fact just taking a DI, which tends to be the go to for most of those ‘outdoor videos’. Put simply we need to actually perform in the space to capture the energy and sound of that space.

This comes with logistical issues… many, in fact more than you’d think. Getting the best out of the performers in this situation is one challenge and I’ll cover that in a bit…but, firstly getting power for amps, and even getting the gear to the venue. It seems simple, but acoustic isn’t an option when working with electric guitars and thats not as easy as it seems. In the case of the venue I have chosen, time is of the essence, we need to arrive, film and be gone in a few hours… Thats a lot of people and stuff to get to a space, set up, perform, and set down. Baring in mind no one playing this piece has ever met before…

The solution…. The Boss Cube Street 2. This amp is the answer to my prayers, and to be honest will probably be an answer for many peoples. Its disturbingly light, disturbingly loud and the sounds are incredible – oh yeah, and it can be powered by 6 AA batteries for a gazillion years, problem solved. So I have one each lined up for the guitar ensemble and yes that includes bass.

For me with two outputs coming from my guitar it works a treat too… The red lead is my mic in the guitar and the black is the pickup. All part of my Mimesis Kudos by Mike Vanden.

As mentioned the artists performing the piece have never met before… (I’ll be introducing you to each of them soon). Each artist will be using their axe of choice strung with Elixir’s and going through the Cube. It gives some uniformity of sound and crucial consistency in playing too, we are filming in the morning and that morning moisture is gonna make most strings feel pretty weird, so its cool to know everyone’s going to be picking up their guitars and it feeling like it did at their last rehearsal… when I say rehearsal… I mean, them on their own practicing.

This stuff is important, seriously. However well rehearsed we are when we are put into a different physical space everything changes. If you’ve ever rehearsed more than enough and then stepped onto stage at a festival on a humid day you’ll know everything can change in seconds, your guitar can feel alien and thats down to strings. So strings that can handle that play a big part, I want every player to have a consistent feel on their instrument – And for me… yeah, thats Elixirs.

Logistically we really cant rehearse together, but is that a problem?

Well, if you’ve taken an interest in one one of my ensemble projects before you’ll know I like to work in a way that doesn’t challenge a player too much. Its not because Im just super nice and want to give people an easy ride its because I believe we do our best playing when we are within out comfort zone. In this case when we come together to play together for the first time theres a ‘magic’ in the air. Not ‘panic’ and ‘stress’ everyone knows what they are doing, they focus on detail and on ‘enjoying’ playing the piece.

Everyone has bounced over a recording to me ahead of time so I can feedback and actually make changes to any parts if needed, so there’s plenty of ground work gone in. But the actual getting together to play… thats being held off to the last minute. It’s the big reveal.

I’ll be back next week with more…