How I Wrote… “Luminalia”

Luminalia is a piece I wrote for the wonderful Quinta & musicians from the Royal Northern Sinfonia for the Sound and Music project “Next Wave 2”, and you can hear it in it’s full glory on the album above on NMC Recordings.

This piece was an oddity for me in the fact that the title, as an abstract idea in its own right, came first, taken from a Tudor Masque show which featured fantastical lighting effects (though supposedly awful music and drama). The title actually led me down a line of research concerning lighting effects and lumino-kinetic art as a visual arts source of inspiration. László Moholy-Nagy and Frank Malina were the early exponents of this art form, and their rudimentary light-emitting sculptures influenced my early sketches for structure and material. There are plenty videos of light sculptures on youtube also, however one by Alex Posada caught my eye, due to its stark difference between slow/static motion and extremely fast spinning, but with a coherence of visual style.

The artworks featured in this video also fascinated me.

The main musical challenge was to capture something of these sculptures through the structure, sound-world and energy. The very first decision I made was to have a single constant line, an object around which to place other lighting effects; the obvious problem in having a constant object is that it can become monotonous, so I chose to make it continuously fall but at different rates, so sometimes the pitch barely moves and at other times it moves markedly more, and then suddenly shoots back up to a really high pitch – which I liken to an audio equivalent of an optical illusion.

What I wanted at this point, was to give the idea that different lighting effects were floating in and out of the piece. I attempted to imagine the piece not so much as the sculpture itself, but as a section of wall reflecting the light whereby what is reflected is what is straight in front of it. In the piece what is heard is five musical events that appear and disappear at regular, and sometimes overlapping, intervals. One emits sudden vibrant sparks, one intensifies the sound, one gently glows in and out of focus and so on. Their pitch is dictated by the constant line, meaning they are also always changing.

Structurally the music then attempts to speed up (around 5 and 7 minutes in) with the central line getting much faster and the objects appearing at closer intervals with more energy or urgency. It is almost as if the light sculpture at the centre of the piece has gets put up a setting so it is spinning faster. What I tried to create was a situation whereby the piece, or the sculpture, sped up to a kind of breaking point of high energy, or as if the light sculpture spins in to a revelry of colour.

Once the sculpture “breaks” one of the ideas then takes precendece across the quartet as if it has been restrained and suddenly shines bright and fizzes out in the very final sections. One of the revelations of the piece for me was this section, due to the fact I chose to unsynchronise the instruments to create a bright, dazzling effect. The difference, especially, of having highly rhythmically ordered material (sometimes awkwardly so), and the complete opposite, was something that worked for me to really give a sense of extreme energy.

I were to try and give a first-time listener a clue in one sentence, I would try and say something to the effect of “follow the energy”; The piece is an exercise in building energy and patterns towards a breaking point.