MUSIC FOR DESKS, PART I: 'SCISSORS'
for 5 players with scissors
first performed by invention ensemble, glasgow, 1998.
About the Piece
I've always thought of myself as something of a frustrated percussionist. Although I did study percussion for a couple of years at university, it quickly gave way to composition. Nonetheless, I'm a natural tapper/clicker/triggerer of whatever makes a sound when I'm sitting about. It's not really a nervous habit, it's just tapping out patterns is something I've always done.
And that's where Music for Desks part 1 came from. Back in 1998, while idly playing with a pair of scissors (as you do), I became more and more interested in the sound they made. It was every bit as precise as a hit on a drum, but in some ways more interesting because of the friction between the blades, and it was a little unsettling.
I then proceeded to gather up all the scissors in the house to try them out. Nail scissors, hair scissors various types of office scissors, and finally, taking things to what I felt was the logical conclusion, a pair of well-oiled garden shears - "bass scissors". The piece came together fairly quickly and was written in a couple of days. It was called part 1, as I was then considering writing two more movements, using other office equipment. Computer keyboards, rulers, staplers, hole punches, gas-lift chairs and desks themselves were all things I was considering. What put me off this at the time was partly the practicalities of performance of such a piece and also other pieces just took over and my focus moved elsewhere. The idea's still there. Maybe one day.
The original scissors used for the piece. Apologies for the potato quality of the pic. It was taken in 1998.
Music for Desks, part I: "Scissors" was premiered in 1998, during the opening concert of Invention Ensemble, a band at the time recently founded by myself composers J Simon van der Walt and Iain Cook. We performed it at numerous gigs after that, and it was understandably a memorable piece for the audience. This then became a bit of an albatross for me. For a good 5 or more years after the initial performance, I got a lot of people asking "are you the person that wrote the scissors piece?". "Yes, but I've written other things too".
I think perhaps at the time I felt frustrated that it seemed some never really got past the novelty factor of it being written for scissors (they were just a means to an end), through to hearing what I felt was an interesting piece. In retospect I think that was a bit presumptious of me, and perhaps also a little precious. I don't believe that it's for the composer to dictate how their piece should be received by an audience. The fact is people heard the piece and enjoyed it in whatever way worked for them, and that's fine. They stayed engaged for the entire duration, and by and large they clapped enthusiastically. And ultimately, it's a piece for scissors, what did I expect?
Musically it's actually quite a bit of a tricky piece, with a lot of fast hocket and polymetric passages. The score is available for download for anyone who wants to look at it or play it. If youre interested in performing it, drop me a line and I'll send on individual parts.