bass clarinet, trombone, piano & percussion
first performed by symposia, 2006, Glasgow.
About the Piece
'The Deep' refers neither to water nor the ocean specifically, which is of what i would assume most people would first think. Rather, the title refers to a painting of the same name by American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). It dates from 1953, and is one of a very few paintings completed in his final years.
The Deep' stands apart in Pollock’s oeuvre. While he is most famed for the many “dripped” paintings created between 1946 and 1950, in which he used sticks coated in paint to drip onto the canvas stretched on the floor and even poured directly from the can; the deep, like a number of the other paintings created in his last years, seems to represents a departure from these pouring techniques and a return to the use of the brush. It has been hypothesized that these late works were pollock searching for a way out of his “signature style” in which he had become somewhat trapped. This is something i personally identify with, and in a case of art mirroring other art, this composition was for me an attempt to move away from the very line orientated nature of my previous works and towards a sound somewhat more “vertical” or textural in character.
Pollock’s painting is largely white, comprising multiple layers of very intense brushwork. Tearing straight up through the middle of this is a dark, black rift which seems to reach inwards, suggesting an almost infinite depth.
In contrast to the dripped works, which are on the whole characterized by an “all over” approach, resulting in an ultimately flat, surface-level texture, the deep is just this, and it is the depth suggested in this painting which interests me compositionally.
I tend to visualize musical structure as a series of interiors or rooms, through which the listener passes. My job then as a composer is to work out the exact size and shape of each of these spaces, their relationship to each other and thus the overall layout, and finally the route to be taken by the listener and how much time is spent in each space.
The space suggested to me by pollock’s painting is cold, dark, severe and impoverished. It has no end, and leads only further inwards. It is at times cavernous and at others claustrophobic. Ultimately it is empty, untouched and unyielding. Yet despite this emptiness and this inhospitable character or perhaps because of it, i somehow also find it very beautiful. This, then, is the starting point for my piece.
The Deep is the second of my works inspired by a painting by pollock, the the first one being Mural, composed in 2004.
Posctript, July 2018:
Composition, like most artistic practice, is far from an exact science. Generally one sets out with a particular intention or direction, and with the expectation that the way forward will become clearer as one advances.
Happily it generally does, and I do find that a clearer sense of the shape and direction of a piece does come into view over time, as I guess is true of most artists.
Sometimes alternate routes present themselves, and at such points one tends to be faced with the question of whether this detour leads ultimately to the same end point, to somewhere more interesting, or simply down a blind alley. In the instances it has occurred, I've often found one of the most challenging aspects or composition to be trying to pull a piece back towards my original vision or idea, away from a seemingly more immediately alluring (but ultimately more problematic) direction. Once in a while pieces fall victim to this tension, resulting in sections or even whole pieces are are somehow 'in-between' - not quite one thing or the other.
I say this because of all my pieces, The Deep is one of the most personally satisfying works I have ever written, in that I feel I completely successfully achieved compositionally what I set out to. It is one of only two or three of my works in which there's nothing I would change, and if all my works were somehow to find them selves on the brink of being lost forever, and I could only save one, The Deep would be the one I'd choose.