Writing about your creations and how they connect with nature inevitably throws up some unusual, specialist terms!
My ‘loop pedal’ is a wee device at my feet. I play a tune on the flute, then after a while stomp my toe on the foot switch on the downbeat to start recording the melody. Then I stomp again and it instantly plays that melody straight back to me through a speaker. So now there’s two of me. A scary thought!
Then I can start layering, multi-tracking, myself. Multiple flutes and keyboards.
As a composer, this is a very rapid, fun and exhilarating way of making music.
In a way this feels like the opposite of those long hours trying to complete musical scores on my computer screen or sitting in dark rehearsal studios with musicians engineering folk band arrangements section by section.
The looping technique, the melody itself and the background/inspiration behind the melody, are all wound up.
This tune is ‘The Whirlpool’ from my first solo album The River – written for the River Spey. I am a folk musician so I often write in the style of old traditional waltzes, reels and jigs – the kind of tunes you’d hear at a ceilidh. This tune is a kind of funky march / reel – a hybrid.
Like ‘Frère Jacques’ or ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’, the melody and arrangement is a ’round’ (or ‘canon’) – multiple voices carrying the tune can start at different times and overlap over each other successfully and create simply harmonies.
A few hundred yards down from the Old Spey Bridge near my house, at a corner in the river, is a whirlpool, or more accurately, a large ‘eddy‘. It continually accumulates branches, leaves and huge clumps of frothy white foam, and ceaselessly spins them around and around night and day. And so I composed the round for it.
The foam is significant, because some historians believe that this could be where the Spey gets its name from – from a combination of Pictish and Old Gaelic sceïd, meaning “spew/vomit” (c.f Welsh chwydu). The foam in the eddies and pools along the banks of the Spey is a product of the plant matter in the water becoming aerated as it is churned up by the fast moving current.