Finding those sparks
As artists, we’re always seeking and collecting ideas. Images, sounds, pieces, moments – you’ll often find us snapping pictures of obscure things, noting down melodies or recording sounds.
For my commission for the Palace Band, I wanted to write something that was directly relevant to them and the area they rehearse in – a community centre adjacent to Alexandra Palace in North London. As an avid crafter, I suspected inspiration would come in the form of something from their knitting and stitching shows- weaving instruments together to create a piece of fabric, or something along those lines. However, in the course of my research I stumbled across the following programme:
Over the years, Alexandra Palace has been home to fabulous fireworks displays – some of the most famous of which being Pain’s fireworks, whose displays were hosted around the world. This programme in particular caught my eye, with fireworks such as ‘Aladdin’s Jewelled Trees’, ‘Mammoth Silver Fire Wheels’ and ‘Swarms of Brilliant Snakes’.
Music inspired by each firework seemed the natural way to go, and I began collecting ideas. I spent a good deal of time buried in pyrotechnics dictionaries, trying to get an idea of what each firework might be and how it might behave. Some became musical themes that could stand on their own, while others were carefully crafted to layer up and combine to create a brilliant display – just as they would have been on the night.
A fireworks display doesn’t just feature the biggest, loudest and most impressive fireworks throughout: there’s shape, colour and pace to create the overall experience. Similarly, Illuminations couldn’t be full of big accented firework chords and flashy scale runs: the whole work roughly divides into three sections with a calmer, more mysterious central movement.
One key element of my work is to give musicians the power to put their fingerprint on the music – and in this case, the fireworks display. James Pain of Pain’s fireworks was infamous for depicting events in fireworks, be it large battles, Fire Portraits (as in the example above) or historical events. It only seemed right to give the Palace Band the chance to create their own fireworks display – created from the collection of fireworks they have available!
Thanks to Stephanie Reeve, Caroline Franklyn and the whole of the Palace Band for commissioning me to write for the Band. Illuminations will be premiered by the Palace Band on the evening of Saturday 30th November at St. Andrew’s Church, Southgate.