Saturday 14 October 2023

Inspired by the Sea: composer Ed Bennett on the ideas behind 'Strange Waves', his large-scale immersive work eight-part multitracked cello & field recordings

Kate Ellis performing Ed Bennett's Strange Waves at Cafe Oto
Kate Ellis performing Ed Bennett's Strange Waves at Cafe Oto with image from Laura Sheeran

Irish composer Ed Bennett has just released a new album, Strange Waves on the Irish label Ergodos. A collaboration with cellist Kate Ellis, Strange Waves includes field recordings, made on the County Down coast and on Ireland’s northernmost island, Rathlin, in the North Atlantic, mixed in with a hypnotic eight-part multitracked cello to create a large-scale immersive work inspired by the sea. 

Earlier this month, Ed Bennett and Kate Ellis launched the album with a performance in London at Cafe Oto, where it was performed with a film by Laura Sheeran that went with the music. Ed's work has featured on this blog before as I reviewed Psychedelia, the 2020 disc of his music on the NMC Records label [see my review].

Ed Bennett (Photo: Rachel McCarthy)
Ed Bennett (Photo: Rachel McCarthy)

Strange Waves
came about partly because of Lockdown in 2020, with Ed wondering whether live performance would ever return and thinking about ways to keep doing things. The idea for Strange Waves was to work with a single performer; having Kate Ellis recording all eight tracks, it was a way to make a piece long distance and create a substantial work with on performer. They recorded it, intending to perform it live when that would be possible. Whilst the performance at Cafe Oto featured just one performer, Kate Ellis, there is an option to perform the work with a live cello octet, though a live version of this remains just a gleam in Ed's eye at the moment. To perform it with eight live performers will take more resources, as the tuning required in the work is quite specific, but Ed feels that surrounding the audience with the eight cellists would be wonderfully effective.

During the Pandemic it was interesting to see how people found ways forward, novel solutions to the problems presented, how artists still persisted and did not give up, rather than simply waiting things out.

Despite these particularities, the Strange Waves in many ways turned out to be an expression of ideas that were in Ed's music anyway. The idea of something that was happening in nature filtered through his music. Here he took the sea and waves, enjoying the sense of repetition and their timeless quality, the effect that repetitive waves have on our brains. His music is a reflection of this, both in terms of the techniques used and the effects that he aspires to. 

Ed Bennett & Kate Ellis after the performance of Strange Waves at Cafe Oto
Ed Bennett & Kate Ellis after the performance
of Strange Waves at Cafe Oto
The field recordings were gathered by Ed with Strange Waves in mind, but he gathers field recordings anyway and these have played a role in his music before. Twenty years ago, he worked a lot in electronics and field recordings were more common in his practice, but he feels that their use is creeping back.  His recent work, Song of the Books, which features on the Psychedelia disc, also written for Kate Ellis, featured cello, ensemble and field recordings.

Before the Pandemic, Ed had relocated to Ireland from London, living two minutes walk from the sea near where he grew up. He grew up with that coastline and that sea, the sound (as caught in the field recordings) is very familiar to him. And during the Pandemic, this was where he was walking every day, being even more attentive to what was around him. So Strange Waves has quite a specificity, in terms of evoking a location; this specificity matters to Ed, but he admits that he is not sure that it should matter to the listener. The field recordings give the work a sense of place, even if this is more indistinct to the listener. He likens it to a photograph, capturing something of an experience.

Ed is also a performer with his ensemble Decibel, and the two, performing and composing, inevitably interweave. Having the ensemble and developing it over twenty years, in different formations, affects how he writes. Working with the musicians from Decibel and being part of the performance inevitably affects his composing practice. With Decibel, he is not writing anonymously, for an ensemble he doesn't really know. Instead, he is writing for specific people whom has has worked with regularly over time. Indeed, the line-up of Decibel came about because those instruments were what the people he wanted to work with played.

This has made him more conscious of what is necessary in the music from a performer's point of view. He feels that his scores have become more transparent, though he also adds that this is not uncommon as composers get older and their techniques continue to improve. But he knows he can get certain things out of the ensemble without over-notating, there is a specificity of sound that he has developed over time. He takes this sensibility and feeds it back into writing music for other ensembles, in the new situations. He feels that in music we are getting back to a sense of there being a performer involved that rather got lost in music in the later 20th century.

Decibel Ensemble
Decibel Ensemble

He is currently working on finishing a work for a 15-piece ensemble, involving guitars and saxophones, that is to be premiered in the Netherlands in February 2024, and he is also working on some new piano music. Also for 2024, there is a new project with Decibel, working with an Irish poet on an evening-length work.

He describes his influences as broad, he likes all sorts of things, not necessarily all of which things he would do in his own music. He enjoys the energy of Louis Andriessen's music, and the delicacy and clarity of Morten Feldman's, whilst he finds fascinating the music of Gloria Coates (the American composer based in Germany, who recently died). He feels that we don't hear enough of Coates' music and mentions her symphonies. He also has strong interests in jazz, electronic music and improvisation, as well as music that falls into the cracks between established genres.

Ed Bennett: Strange Waves - Kate Ellis - Ergodos 
Ed Bennett: Psychedelia - RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, David Brophy, Kate Ellis, Decibel, Daniele Rosina, Orkest de Ereprijs, Wim Boerman, Jack McNeil, Eliza McCarthy - NMC Records

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • A lovely artist portrait: Dobrinka Tabakova's orchestral works featured on a new disc from the Hallé & Delyana Lazarova - record review
  • First Person: Sholto Kynoch, artistic director of Oxford International Song Festival, reflects on 22 years of festival making - feature
  • English song and a pizza! Kitty Whately and William Vann at Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry in Chelsea - concert review
  • Britten's Peter GrimesJohn Findon takes the title role in ENO's magnificent revival of David Alden's production - opera review
  • Not quite Massenet the modernist; his late grand opera Ariane is full of wonderful things and intrigues in the way he weaves 19th and 20th century together - record review
  • Musical pleasure: strong & stylish performances from a young cast in English Touring Opera's new production of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) - opera review
  • Astonishing that no-one has heard or heard of the work: Ella Marchment on directing Camille Erlanger's L'Aube rouge at Wexford - interview
  • The flower fairies are back: Cal McCrystal's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe for ENO fills the London Coliseum with colour, movement & comedy - opera review
  • Up Close & Stormy: Lucy Schaufer launches Up Close & Musical 2023 at the Fidelio Cafe - concert review
  • Offenbach's La princesse de Trébizonde from Opera Rara performed with wit & style, you can't help but be drawn in & have as much fun as the performers - record review
  • A 3D, surround sound, high definition Vespers for the 21st Century: Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 from I Fagiolini at Kings Place - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month