VENICE TALK THROUGH:
The first minute is a very slow fade in of a recording I took when I was in Venice, when I saw sitting on the side of the water and was trying to record the sounds of bells, so this was by the little steps where the waves were loudest. I chose it mainly for the bells, but the water and bells combined was really useful because it set the scene well. These were the overarching sounds of Venice for me, this was my biggest impression. You’ve got the constant sound of the water, and then these bells always playing, so it seemed like the perfect track to open with.
I also chose this particular recording because of strange ambient tones I could hear in it that I don’t know the source of. All of these strange drones of sound, not sure how to describe. Like strings resonating almost, you can hear these constant hums of different sounds like overtones. Sounds very atmospheric. It helps to create this sense of unknowing and anticipation at the start I think. Also there are some boat sounds wafting in, which is good because it set the scene for themes I wanted to establish later.
Going into the 3rd minute, I introduce some of the violin sounds and I created these on my electric violin, which was quite an interesting experience as I hadn’t worked with it properly before in my editing/recording (I had gotten it primarily with performance in mind). I recorded directly from the violin into the mic, so it has a very different quality of sound than the other recordings in the piece featuring the violin. I actually really liked it, it changed the way I worked so I’m glad I did it because of that and I’d like to record with it more. You can’t get the same variety of sounds from an electric violin as you can with an acoustic, obviously when using an amp etc you can create a huge variety of live sounds, but acoustically the traditional violin has a far greater range. It’s definitely a different quality of sound, and it was easier to edit it a lot because it was a cleaner recording. So the higher register two tracks you can hear are me recreating the sounds of the bells I recorded in Venice, I was playing around with recreating the rhythms and pitches. I did have a lot more different bell sounds, but I decided not to use them as I thought it would be too much, it would just be a cacophony of sound. And then there’s a bass in the background (edited lower), which is the only moving changing track in that section, which I think works well as its slower in pace, meaning it builds tension over a longer amount of time and creates a greater build up. I reversed on of the bell tracks because just stopping it didn’t sound right, it needed to distort and fade out.
I’ve reversed a lot of the tracks in this piece – I liked using the technique as it extended the track but in a slightly distorted way. It enabled a slight distortion without losing the inherent essence of the track. I kept the water constant throughout the violin section, which was important to provide a constant grounding a sense of place at the start. That section fades out at around 4 minutes, and then it fades into the vaporetto section.
This was a recording I took when I was on the vaporetto. One of the main things I felt about Venice was that you’ve got all these different languages in the same place, and everyone’s very loudly talking in their own languages and you don’t have a clue what everyone’s saying, and nor do they. But it was interesting as a place for all of these languages to meet. I liked how the languages were reduced to just different voice sounds, different intonations etc. This language barrier reminded me of the google translate stuff I’d been working on before. So the text I used was from A Merchant in Venice. I chose this because this piece is all about Venice through one person’s experience, and my experience was coloured by all of my experiences. A Merchant in Venice was my prior experience of Venice, so I felt it was the right text to use rather than something I had no connection to. It was my impression from before. Also Shakespeare doesn’t make much sense anyway, so it would be perfect for making sentences that didn’t make sense. So I translated some sections to Italian, and then also to Welsh, as I felt more connected to the Welsh language in Venice than in Cardiff.
The Italian voice still sounds a bit like a real person, whereas the Welsh sounds like a robot, very unsettling. Horrible, monotonous, electric sounding voice. I wanted them to weave in and out with the normal voices you can hear. So the Welsh echoes the Italian in the piece. My favourite section was ‘what news on the Rialto’ or something, as it was distinctively recognisable as Venice. So I picked that out from the clip and ended the vaporetto recording suddenly with it. I didn’t really like this section that much – it feels unfinished, but I didn’t know how to change it. I think maybe because it isn’t very fleshed out, it’s quite exposed. But maybe it needed that in contrast to the rest of it where quite a lot is going on.
So the rialto bit is reduced to a rhythm repeated, and that fades out whilst I’ve got a really edited version of a section I played from the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A Minor. This was my first vision of Venice: when I learnt this piece when I was 12 my teacher said ‘Imagine you’re walking through the streets of Venice when you’re playing this’, and I think then going to Venice myself, the music really does embody that feeling. That passage runs twice, heavily edited in both. The first time is heavily distorted and slowed down, and then it’s punctuated by the Rialto phrase again before repeating less distorted, but it echoes more. Whilst they play I created a footstep-like track to try and emphasise this sense of movement from one place to another.
Then that fades out into a more peaceful section. Just listening to it now it could have been edited more cleanly, but I’m trying to let go of thinking this had to be my best piece ever. I was watching the strings final for BBC Young Musician, and the contestants spoke about their performances afterwards and some of them said ‘some things could have gone better, but I’m really happy with the performance’, and I think I have to think of it like that. I’m only 2nd year, I’ve got a lot more learning to do and I recognise that. And I was very limited by my software which is frustrating, but I’m a lot more experienced for next time I make a piece like this, and I really challenged myself here and learnt a lot.
So I wanted to have a very peaceful section because I found some very tranquil parts of Venice as well as the heavily touristy areas. And I think the piece really needs this section as it had been so busy up until then, you really need this more contemplative quietness. And this reflects the parts of Venice I liked most, the parts where you had time alone and could think, and Venice is a safe enough city that it wasn’t frightening to be alone.
Solitude in Venice is very different to solitude in Cardiff for me. It was good to be alone, and I think the piece shows that – it’s such a chaotic city that the moments of solitude are refreshing and needed. Odd way of living, because I wasn’t on holiday but it also wasn’t a home. Wanted to convey the sense of exploration that ignites. It was a profound experience and I would love to go back and experience it again.
Also using a combination of recordings I took whilst I was out there, electronic edited stuff, and organic sounds from my violin was important because the violin is my way of interpreting things, like that would be me doing a painting for it. And I didn’t want to use other instruments etc, because I wanted it to just have these three elements.
So then it goes into a lute passage I recorded from a busker, and I reversed it and really like the affect is has – it has a similar vibe to the start of the piece with those strange hums and sounds. And then that fades out and into footsteps again as a linking passage, and then a clip of a wine glass busker. I only used a reversed track of this, as I felt the original was too obvious, too literal. You can tell it’s the sound of glass, but it’s still ambiguous. And then that fades out and then back into bells, so it’s like ‘we’ve had this detour, now we’re back to business.’
Then it goes into a recording of St Mark’s Square, one of the most perplexing locations for me. You have all of these restaurants dotted around, and each one has its own cheesy Andre Rieu style band, and you can hear all of these different songs and they clash horribly together, all in different styles and different places. And I managed to pick some of this up in my recording, but I also added my own bits recorded from my violin to enhance this. It’s quite a slow section, but I think it needs that duration as there’s so much going on at once. Then it has the ‘breakdown’ – I’m not really sure how it came about, it was meant to be a short link but I got carried away. I think it needs it – it’s a link between the real life recordings and heavily edited violin stuff, and it needs that extended descent to transition the atmosphere into this electronic pool.
And then it goes into a very heavily edited section of the Vivaldi which is a huge rumbling bass, which builds tension into the main choral coming up. I wanted to portray that emotion of Venice too, this stress of the crowds etc. And then we have the bell sounds from the start (but this time played in a different way and layered), before going into the choral.
So the main ‘high point’ of this piece was always going to be a choral. There were two key moment for me in Venice: when we went to a concert of Monteverdi’s music, a huge full choir singing the works in a grand church; and then in contrast to that, when I stumbled across a very small church performing a normal daily service. Both experiences were incredibly emotive, and it really emphasised to me how important music is to Venice in both its creation and its identity. I’ve written about it in more detail elsewhere, but Gabrieli’s music is integral to Venice’s history and St Mark’s Basilica, so I wanted to use his music for this section.
It’s an 8 part antiphonal choir I painstakingly recorded track by track, taken from a piece I studied on my music a level (my first introduction to his music). I reversed the choral section before it plays properly as a way of linking it into the piece, it builds up to it and bridges the gap. I was really pleased with the actual choral bit – the recording and editing process took 3 days, and it was the most difficult part of the piece to create. When I heard it all together for the first time I did cry a bit, partly because the music was so powerful, but mainly out of relief. But it reminded me of a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time: is music sacred and ‘beautiful’ because it inherently is, or have we been conditioned to perceive it as thus over time? I found the Gabrieli so powerful, and maybe it is due to some sacred power in the notes. Or maybe I was just over exhausted. I got the full choir but changing the pitches so I had the full choir extending beyond the range of my violin.
Then we go into a recording I took as I walked along Giueddeca at night, and I think it has a very different quality of sound to the other bell track I used. I feel like the other bells sound brighter and more awake, whereas these ones sound more contemplative, and I can tell they were recorded at night. The water returns with the bells here too. It mirrors the violin bells section at the start of the piece, creating a cyclical nature I feel. The bells lead up into the reversed Gabrieli before it plays again. I wanted to use ths choral clip twice because it was the best bit and I wanted it to be heard more often, but it’s very different second time round. I feel like it’s a reprise – the first time it felt triumphant, but this time it’s informed by the bells you hear before. It sounds like it’s coming to an end, like a last burst of energy.
It finished with a wind section, created by me blowing into the holes of my violin. This was a recreation of a recording I took on my phone when I was alone in the house on Certosa – the wind was so strong that it blew through the house and sounded like flutes. I added harmonic slides as well to recreate this musical presence.
On the whole, I think it’s about exploring the violin, exploring the sounds of Venice etc. I’m really pleased with it as a whole – obviously there are things I think I could have done better, but when do you stop? I would like to work like this again for a different location. It’s an interesting ground between music and sound, and recordings and generating stuff, which I’m interested in exploring more.