NOTES FROM A SMALL COUNTRY
Cover Design by Birnham CD
"Notes From a Small Country" is an eclectic collection of music for solo saxophone and wind synthesiser. Most of the pieces were written by or for the performer, Richard Ingham. Works by contemporary composers Sally Beamish, Tom David Wilson, Charlotte Harding and Ian Stewart are featured, alongside Ingham's own compositions. We hear a lament, a jig, a reel, a pibroch, a bourrée, a lorki and two songs. There are two John Cage realisations and a nod to his notorious 4'33'' starts the synthesiser track. Transcriptions of folk melodies from South Uist and from Turkey come to life on the soprano saxophone, along with a Burns tune and a Bach bourée. Recorded 2012, Watercolour Studios, Ardnamurchan, Scotland.
His Inevitable Lament - Richard Ingham
His Inevitable Lament was commissioned by Roy Allen in memory of Dr Paul Tomassi (1962-2005), and was written in 2006. Paul Tomassi was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, specialising in logic and the history of philosophy; he was the author of the well known textbook Logic. Dr Tomassi had very catholic tastes in music, and the piece incorporates references to many of these -- some obvious, some less so. He was particularly fond of Scottish traditional music, jazz, Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkel.
Max's Pibroch - Sally Beamish
Max's Pibroch was written as a seventieth birthday present for composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Sally Beamish originally wrote the piece for piccolo and the first performance was given by Philippa Davies in 2004.
The piece is a homage to Highland pibroch (piobaireachd), using typically elaborate grace note figures in the opening and closing thematic statements, and developing the material through a series of variations. These explore the decorations through melodic, rhythmic, timbral and dynamic transformations.
I first began playing pibroch around 1974, as a way of developing neat execution of rapid grace note figurations found in much 20th century music. This began a lifelong interest in pibroch itself as an art form.
Waves in Watercolour - Richard Ingham
This piece, conceived in 2005, is an exploration of the sonic potential of the saxophone tube. It utilises non-standard fingering patterns incorporating rhythmic interplay between the two hands, giving rise to false fundamentals and associated partials. The performance is entirely improvised. The title relates to sound waves in Watercolour Studios, not to painting waves in the medium of watercolour, although it could.
Kanic - Charlotte Harding
Written by Charlotte Harding in 2012 for Richard Ingham, for this album. The composer writes: "I find folk music very colourful, but also the mechanics behind it - why it works and has so much energy. I wanted this piece to almost break down the different colours and textures involved, and then bring them all back together in various forms and combinations. For instance, the rhythmic section in the middle is almost supposed to sound like a snare drum/drum kit with fills in between, and the growls going into quavers to me is accordion-like, with the rich chord followed by the spiky individual notes. This is then all based loosely on one melodic line which is always trying to race away with itself and move everything on."
Ballyfa Evening - Richard Ingham
This was written in 2003 as part of the suite From Pennan to Penang (eleven movements for myself and Mary McCarthy, accordion). It contains memories of a late session in Co. Galway, hosted by Maire NiDhuibhir, featuring traditional music, both instrumental and vocal. This piece, for solo saxophone, celebrates the decorated Irish singing style of Sean-Nós, whilst incorporating Scottish pibroch and Irish dance music styles.
Distant Song - Richard Ingham
Written in 2001 as a teaching study in contemporary techniques and notation. A slumbering person hears a song as they are waking up, but is unsure if it's in the dream or real. The song is repeatedly distorted as they slip between sleeping and waking, until, finally awake, they hear the uninterrupted song.
Jig - Tom David Wilson
Tom writes: "'Jig' for unaccompanied saxophone, is the third in a set of six pieces for unaccompanied single line instruments. The other two are a Sarabande for violin and a Courante for piccolo. The pieces are all based on different dances from the baroque suite and as such are homages to Bach unaccompanied pieces for violin or 'cello, but are also inspired by Stravinsky unaccompanied pieces (clarinet) and of course the Berio Sequenzas.
The shape of "Jig" is quite simple; an opening refrain, a kind of "shout" making use of violent chords, alternates with a light, dancing section which in turn gives way to a central section which is very still and reflectivel. A reprise of the dancing music leads to a coda which consist of a properly worked "baroque" gigue.
The piece makes extensive use of multi-phonics, both fingered and vocalised, and was composed in 2010 with Richard Ingham's virtuosity in mind. The piece is dedicated to him."
Variations I, for saxophone - John Cage
This work is dedicated to pianist David Tudor, as a belated birthday present, and was written in 1958. The score consists of six six transparent sheets, one with dots, five with lines.
The composer's instructions read: "Six squares of transparent material, one having points of four sizes: the 13 very small ones are single sounds; the 7 small but larger ones are 2 sounds; the 3 of greater size are three sounds. Pluralities are played together or as 'constellations'. In using pluralities, an equal number of the 5 other squares (having 5 lines each) are to be used for determinations, or equal number of positions - each square having 4. The 5 lines are: lowest frequency, simplest overtone structure, greatest amplitude, least duration, and earliest occurence within a decided upon time. Perpendiculars from points to lines give distances to be measured or simply observed. Any number of performers; any kind and number of instruments." Cage's idea is to use these (in realisation, many layers of) aleatorically driven sound generation to remove any kind of subjective decision making from the performer with regard to form or rhetoric.
Cage's music, with its often random beauty, has inspired my musical life for many years.
Variations I, for 3 saxophones - John Cage
Three simultaneous solo performances of Variations I - one performance of Variations I.
Bourrée Anglaise - J S Bach
This is the finale from Bach's sonata (often called partita) for solo flute in A minor, written around 1718. A fine example of Bach's ability to create a flowing solo melodic line, which also gives the impression of simultaneous counterpoint, a technique later described by jazz musicians as 'surround tones'. The dance element shines through.
Do Chrochadh A Thoill Thu - trad, coll Margaret Fay Shaw
An example of Gaelic puirt à beul (mouth music), collected by the American folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw on the Hebridean island of South Uist. It was collected between 1929 and 1935, and published in her 1955 book 'Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist'. Puirt à beul was used as an aide-memoire for pipers and fiddlers, and also as a means of disseminating traditional tunes following the banning of musical instruments. The words are usually nonsense or outrageous, or just vocables, and are subservient to the tune. This one tells of how a woman should be hanged for...drinking all the milk up.
Who Would You Like to be Stranded on Es Vedra With? - Ian Stewart
The influence of rock and in particular dance music is evident in Ian Stewart's Who would you like to be stranded on Es Vedra with? for soprano saxophone and tape/techno track. Echoes of ambient music of the late 1980's and early 1990's can be heard: the saxophone line is quite minimalist, with repetitive, non-developing tonal cells. I gave the first performance of this in Valencia in 1997.
Lorki Dance / Kaba Dance - trad, coll Béla Bartók
I first began playing these pieces after I came across a collection of Béla Bartók's transcriptions in 1980. I was struck by the precision in the writing (pitch inflections and rhythms), and often included them in recitals, with and without the percussion part. Reading these transcriptions took me back just a few years, when, in a chance dinner conversation in Orkney with Barrie Gavin, BBC documentary filmmaker, he described a current project, which was to revisit some of the areas where Bartók had collected music, and even interview some of the original players and singers. This became the film 'The Miraculous Circumstance', made in association with folklorist A L Lloyd. I thought at the time what an amazing project this must have been to have been involved with. Here it is!
These two dances were recorded in Turkey in 1936, and performed on zurna ( a shawm like instrument) and davul (drum). I had listened to a lot of zurna music as a student at York University in the 1970s and attempted to recreate it on the soprano saxophone, so I knew it would work on the instrument, with a certain kind of blowing technique and some false fingerings. I hadn't known the original recordings were still extant, but, in researching for this album, to my delight I found them on iTunes. The accompanying photograph of Bartók, on the back of a trailer in a field, with cumbersome recording equipment, complete with suit and hat, was a strong contender for the cover of this album. It was interesting to find that the Lorki dance as transcribed was shorter than the recording, so for this recording, Margaret Douglass and I completed the transcription. At the foot of his exquisitely written manuscript, after his catalogue numbers, Bartók writes - Zurna player: Ali (24) illiterate; Davul player: Cuma Ali (38) illiterate.
Treisur - Richard Ingham
In collaboration with poet Aimee Chalmers, I gave a performance of this at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in December 2011. Aimee had been commissioned to write a poem celebrating one of the '26 Treasures' of the museum, and also a 26 minute performance to open the festival. She asked me to join her for this performance, following our collaboration on my 'Drift O' Rain' music using the poems of Marion Angus. Aimee's poem, her treasure, was Westlothiana Lizziae, a fossil of some 350 million years ago. When Lizziae was discovered in Scotland in 1984, she was considered to be the first reptile. Aimee's marvellously evocative poem, in Scots, tells the story from Lizziae's point of view. The music was improvised on soprano saxophone, wind synthesiser and bass clarinet. This is one of the wind synthesiser sections. The recording is prefaced by another tribute to John Cage in his centenary year, a version of 4'33''. Nick Turner set up the microphones outside the studio one evening - you can perhaps hear the breeze and the waterfall, from an ancient landscape, although not as ancient as Lizziae.
My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose - trad / Burns
Simply one of the finest tunes ever. Robert Burns set his 1794 poem 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose' originally to Neil Gow's 'Major Graham', but today it is usually sung to the traditional tune of 'Low Down in the Broom', following an 1821 publication. This is the version I chose. It's notoriously difficult for singers due to its range of a twelfth, but much more relaxing on a saxophone.