Composer’s Orchestra Get Improvisational – Ryan Woodgate

Composers Orchestra Improvisatory Composition Workshop Concert; run by the Edinburgh College of Art; Photograph by Arek DakessianPhoto by Arek Dakessian

“Composers’ Orchestra Improvisatory Composition Workshop”, an event organised by the Composer’s Orchestra and Edinburgh College of Art. The Composer’s Orchestra is a society made up of composers who meet up regularly to perform each other’s work as an orchestra, students from across the University of Edinburgh were invited to take part in a day-long workshop which focused on “improvisation as a form of compositional method”. Beginning at 10am, the impressive fruits of the collaborative project were then shared much later at 6.30pm with a very lucky audience inside the Reid Music Hall. Music ranging from the weird to the wonderful and everything in between tickled the ears of the receptive audience.The musicians did not have any musical scores or notes before them, which they had to strictly adhere to. Instead, they had pictures and diagrams of illustrations and flow-chart-like arrows indicating the structure that the groups had created during the day’s workshop and in which the musicians could improvise during the show. The result was exciting and anything but conventional. The first group, aptly titled “The Origami Quintet”, used paper stuffed in their instruments to muffle and distort their sound and later microphones to experiment with feedback techniques. Another group reached inside into the heart of the piano to strike at the strings directly. The third collective even had an acted-out optical element to their performance in which one member went from instrument to instrument with a magnet, whacking odd bits and bobs, lying on the floor and engaging in call-and-response with the other instruments in the group. This emphasised the delightfully humorous angle of the show and the excitement in its unpredictability.

The end result of day’s collaborative improvisational compositions was an unusually eerie and thoroughly captivating cacophony of sound forged by the collective cawing and roaring of the musicians’ instruments.

Before the last piece of the night, which was an entertaining improvised performance including nearly all the members of the all the groups at once, a stimulating and inviting piece entitled “Hexeis” was played, which was written by Alex Cutteridge, a student studying for his masters in the Reid School of Music within the university, in the weeks leading up the event.

After the concert came to an end, I caught up with Alex to ask about a few things that had tickled my curiosity. He detailed how his piece was written, with reference to “instructions” of how to play “Hexeis”, which was more flow-chart than musical notes, and explained how, though the musicians were allowed room for improvisation, there was an underlying compositional structure in place. The impressively mind-boggling thing was that the piece could sound different each time, and had “three different endings” which were all equally possible. Asking Alex about the Composer’s Orchestra in general, he remarked how it was great society to be a part of, that “brings together” all manner of students from across the university.

Being introduced to this new way of approaching and thinking about music was a real treat, and one for which I have the talented members of the Composer’s Orchestra, and their Innovative Learning Week participants, to thank.

Ryan Woodgate – Philosophy and Economics


One response to “Composer’s Orchestra Get Improvisational – Ryan Woodgate

  1. Pingback: Performance: “Listen to the Whistle” – Improvisation Libre via Internet | Alexander Cutteridge·

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