On Wednesday 20 October, Red Note Ensemble will launch sound with a new piece of music by Gabriel Jackson. John Harris, chief executive and artistic co-director of the ensemble shares with us the thrill of first setting eyes on a new score…
- John Harris
“Gabriel Jackson’s new piece for us arrived in the post very recently, all beautifully printed and bound and looking and feeling very nice indeed. I have to say, the joy of new scores is not just about the music that can be produced from the ink on their paper; they’re as much of a tactile and visual experience for me when they first turn up as a musical one. You don’t yet know, without reading them through thoroughly, the details they contain – the music that will appear from these pages exists some distance away, in a future place and time.
Right now, on this first looking, the paper is slightly rough to the touch, not yet smoothed by constant turning, returning, checking and referencing; the ink has a faint whiff of having been just placed there, almost as though it hasn’t really settled yet and may decide to flit away before anyone looks at it too closely. As I leaf through these new pages the glue-and-fabric binding creaks and snaps slightly, and tiny snatches of the music to come flicker past my ears.
I’m not a person who generally mourns the onset of the digital revolution – a man who prefers CDs to downloads, because CDs are Objects and downloads are not. But I will miss the New-Score Experience, when all sheet music is delivered electronically and all we do is print it out onto office-block A4. I will miss the slight crankiness of the size of each page; the fact that it’s much easier to read a B4 part, but far less convenient to make one – because B4 paper and the printers that can handle it will soon be as rare as stove-black. I will miss the fact that those who supply the sheet music, because of the digital barrier, will no longer be able to match the infinite tactile care in its production that the musicians will take over its performance.
Gabriel’s piece is about several things. One of these is that Doonies Hill is the site of a WWII radar station. On a recent visit to the Imperial War Museum in London I was very deeply struck by the bombers and fighter planes they have on display. They’re tin cans, they’re lashed together with string. Far, far less substantial than any domestic car that one would drive to the supermarket for the weekly shop, let alone something one might be prepared to pilot on life-and-death missions over aggressive foreign lands. To get inside one of these planes, and to take off, would require more bravery than I feel I could possibly ever muster. I suppose that utter desperation and a belief in the necessity of what one was being asked to do would give one the necessary mental armour to make these, once everyday, heroisms possible – but they are simply beyond my imaginings.
I am deeply grateful that I don’t have to live in times like the ones those pilots experienced, and also that I don’t have to because they did. I’m lucky to be able to enjoy unrepeatable, simple, rare pleasures – like the arrival of a new score in the post, or the first hearing of some new music. The Infinite Replication Machine, through its promise of Instant Everything, can take away as much as it delivers. Sometimes it’s worth reflecting on these things, and how they came to be about.”