Elements EP: Composer’s Notes

Overview

Every instrumental composition on this EP has developed from something rather basic into a more complex version over time; paralleled by my own progression as a musician. As the pieces have been written for a while now, they have had time to ferment with embellishments and evolve with rearrangements, with the earliest track being one of the ideas I tried when first experimenting with Open Dsus4 tuning [DADGAD]. One conceptual idea I tried to do with the EP was to have the track order so that the major pieces are at the start and as the EP goes on, the minor sections become more prominent until you reach the closing track that is very much in a minor key, dipping into the harmonic minor at times.

Before I give a quick run down of each tracks origin, it is worth noting the relevance of Equinox’s title; the piece is almost exactly in two halves, with one major and one minor – much like the balance of light and dark during the biannual equinox. Lastly, most of these pieces are through composed – as in they do not have many repeating parts and they often only have one section in them that I consider their ‘hook’ or recurring theme.

 

The True Track Order [Chronologically]

 

Grass Dance [2008] – Track 2

Back in my 6th year of school at Culloden Academy, they held a talent show that I entered with a very primitive version of Grass Dance. Despite being a solo performance with no vocals, I somehow ended up winning – something that blew my tiny little mind at the time. Since then, the introduction was developed to a higher technicality and the middle section at 2:11 was added in to provide a strong hook from the previous double tapping build up. Lastly, the percussive section that closes the piece was developed in technicality also so there was a more climatic finish to the track.

 

Celtic Dawn [2008] – Track 1

As part of winning the talent show with Grass Dance, I was put in to the Christmas concert to perform again, but I didn’t really want to do the same piece again so I wrote a new one; Celtic Dawn. This time I wanted a piece that had more of a Scottish twang to it and thus the compound time section was born. Before that section kicks into life however, I had a slow introduction in my musical attempt to represent a sunrise. The piece then meanders a fair bit to progressively build to my favourite bit, the hook [hyperlink]. After that it meanders once again through another few sections to arrive at another climatic end of percussive playing with the last note being some natural harmonics.

 

Eclipse [2009] – Track 6

This piece is the most personal composition I have written to date and unfortunately its origin is not under positive circumstances. Tragedy struck our secondary school in the February of this year with the untimely death of one of the pupils in our year. Without going into great detail, a memorial award was announced in honour of his life with pupils submitting their creative work in various art forms. I did not know him very well, but he had been in my primary school so he was always there as I was growing up and it was my view that he would continue to do so – the naivety of my younger self couldn’t fathom this reality very well. The realisation of vulnerability even in our youth and that we were not all destined to live our whole life was an unexpected blow to us all and I wanted to at least try to produce something for him. The end result was Eclipse and to this day I will play it when I am struggling as despite it being a minor piece, I find the repeated chord progression manages to be uplifting and can help remind me of the good and not just the bad.

 

Instrü Mentae [2009] – Track 5

Not long after Eclipse, the main hook of Instrü Mentae was the first part I wrote for the piece and it still remains as fun to play as it was when I first composed it. The piece starts of very rapidly and then gets a breath of air after the opening section; this then builds and builds with a slight increase of tempo until it reaches the ‘hook’. After that, it sneaks into the minor section with the used of artificial harmonics. The minor section builds and builds to it’s highest point and then rings out one final note; the major section then creeps back in to build and build back to the hook. Overall, this song is fairly simple in structure in comparison to others, but the name started as a simple play on the word Instrumental due to my lack of imagination at the time. Instrü Mental then became Instrü Mentae in an attempt to distance the term a bit further from it’s obvious origin and the Mentae gives it a big of a Scottish twang.

 

The Ballad of Tom Riach [2009] – Track 3

Who is Tom Riach?  – I get asked this question fairly often and the answer is no one. Tom Riach is a place near a viaduct, just outside Inverness. Tom Riach is a large boulder, a glacial erratic for those prepped up with their geology [I however, had to look it up – a rock or boulder that differs from the surrounding rock and is believed to have been brought from a distance by glacial action]. It is used for rock climbing, but for me it was a place to my friend Chris and I used to go often to get a fire going and have a jam with guitars and a djembe [Chris is in Penniless Moth, check out the blog here[hyperlink]]. The song is essentially E in structure [harmonic section, double tap section, back to harmonics, build up section, percussive section, outro] and the percussive section towards the end is fantastic to play when accompanied with a djembe.

 

Equinox [2010/11] – Track 4

Lastly we arrive at the newest piece, which at the time of writing is still around 3 years old! It was written in my second year of uni studying Popular Music at Edinburgh Napier as part of my performance studies modules for the guitar. I had a great tutor, Taj who gave me creative nudges on how to craft the piece; linking sections together and trying out different chords in the DADGAD tuning. As you will hear, the piece flows a lot better than the other tracks due to developing ideas around the same progressions. The link between the major and minor sections is a simple dominant chord at the suggestion of Taj – a very simple transition but I found it worked really well. The minor section has to be one of my favourite parts I have written as it is essentially a mirror image – the idea develops and develops until it reaches the ‘hook’ and then it simplifies until it goes back to finger picking and finally slows to the end.

 

I hope you have enjoyed finding a bit more about the construction of this instrumental music and if you feel like learning the pieces, check out the notation here.

Neil.

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