Tension Blue is a collaboration with classical guitarist Bridget Mermikides. The aim of the project is to blend contemporary digital technologies with traditional solo classical performance. It retains the intimate, human touch of the classical guitar but rejects its expectations of stylistic hierarchies, and particular markers of ‘virtuosity’. The remarkable affordances of digital technology provide a glow of opportunity around this traditional centre. There are no stylistic boundaries and the pieces draw influence from (and reflect a shared love of) Western Art, Jazz, ‘World’, minimalist, process, microtonal, serialist, spectral, electroacoustic and intelligent dance music. The title implies simply the exploration of colour (be it timbral, harmonic, textural or rhythmic) with the use of strings under tension, and it so happens that many of the pieces have some reference to the colour blue.
All sounds are generated live using Ableton Live and custom Max4Live devices, and are derived entirely from the live classical guitar. No guitar, no sound. we have performed in venues from church recital settings, concert halls, electronic music festivals to informal settings in the UK, Canada, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Pieces emerge from my compositional ideas/technological ideas and crystallise through experimentation, improvisation and the coalescence of eclectic stylistic features. The project neither seeks nor avoids accessibility (or complexity). It was intended as a personal project with little ambitions for the creation of objects in the publication of scores or recordings. However an interest in the pieces from other guitarists and instrumentalists encouraged a flurry of score publications (see below) and adaptations for ukulele, harp and piano. A selection of performances are presented below with brief liner notes, with further details available in Technologies.
Corale (2015-) Here the endlessly rising electronic backdrop support a cyclical motif dissolving conventional structures and hinting at the infinite. The title is a play on words of the colour it inspires and the resulting chorale nature of the guitar’s timbre as it dissolves into the seascape of imagined continuations.
Bumbershoots (2019-) Although the pitch-shifted delay patterns are strictly systematic and generated entirely from the guitar’s live input, they produce – if the guitarist plays with exactly the right rhythmic feel – mischievous responses that feel like autonomous characters. Despite the ‘hard’ pitch-shifting, tri-tonic modulations are deftly navigated with Neo-Riemmanian theory. The soloist becomes her own accompanist to her clones. The title is a tortured play on words on Emmerson’s electronic music paradigms 2a (clone/variant) and 2b (autonomous machine) (paradigm – parachute – bumbershoot/umbrella). It is also a reference to Magritte’s depiction of umbrellas, and his surreal cloning and decontextualisation of familiar objects.
Two Blue Circles (2015- ) uses a very simple melody and pentatonicism supported by jazz harmonies, a Satie-esque vibe wrapped in subtle layers of improvised electronic textures. The original melody was written for our daughter Chloe at a time of near-hopelessness of her arrival and yet seems even more apt now we’ve had the good fortune to meet her.
Insighted (2017) This is based on a simple chordal sequence which relies on a delay pattern (quaver and dotted quaver panned left and right respectively) from the electronics which provides an antiphonal rhythmic interest greater than the sum of the parts. The name is derived from our daughter’s mispronunciation of ‘excited’. Diatonicism, tempo and rhythm are entirely stable and consonant, drawing focus to the simply antiphony and subtle changes in timbre. This performance was recorded using a transducer pick up on Asini Beach near Nafplion, Greece.
While many of these pieces have an inadvertent technological exclusivity, the relatively simple set up for Insighted, has resulted in performances of this work by instrumentalists in my absence, with guitarist Matthew Marshall touring the piece in New Zealand and Australia this year.
Insighted for Uke (2018) I have started to collaborate with ukulele virtuoso, advocate and researcher, Samantha Muir expanding Tension Blue’s remit. Despite the limited strings and range, the ukulele responds well to the electronically with its re-entrant tuning and delicate timbre. For this performance an ‘intelligent’ harmoniser which creates diatonic pitch shifted delay, adapting to the incoming pitch (from 1:45 and 2:15). While many of these pieces have an inadvertent technological exclusivity, the relatively simple set up for Insighted, has resulted in performances of this work by instrumentalists in my absence, with guitarist Matthew Marshall touring the piece in New Zealand and Australia this year.
Technical Demonstrations and Excerpts
Several scores are published by Viribus Music
Stephen Eden custom guitar with built-in pickup/mic into Ableton Push 2, UAD Apollo Twin Interface
Ableton Live Suite 10 with some secret sauce custom Max for Live devices; and Eventide & SoundToys plugins.