St Paul's Pianos

Like most Australians these days, when I arrived in London I first washed up in the suburb of Willesden Green. Once upon a time, there had been a store in the Willesden Green High Road called Saint Paul's Pianos: now nothing but the old sign remains.

This sign quickly donated its name to a series of 23 short chorales for piano, written in a flat around the corner from the former store. Each one was written in the Cakewalk MIDI sequencer, using a specially-written script that generated random chord progressions within a limited set of harmonic and rhythmic possibilities to predetermined lengths.

Real Nightingales

At the same time as writing St Paul's Pianos, I started working on a piece for autonomously controlled, digitally synthesised sounds, using Ross Bencina's program AudioMulch. This was an extension of earlier attempts to compose autonomous music for live analogue electronics (Half-Arsed Twittering Machine and Mock Tudor No.2: Why doesn't someone get him a Pepsi?, both from 2002).

This piece went through several different incarnations as I learned AudioMulch's different capabilities, completely recomposing it several times before reaching an acceptable state in early 2007. The final version is built upon a digital simulation of the same principle of feedback oscillation used in a number of my live, analogue works.

In this instance, four identical simulated feedback loops created in AudioMulch are modulated against each other, with additional timbral adjustments using Sascha Eversmeier’s free virtual signal processor Dominion. Also present are two digital samples of the nightingale stop, traditionally found on pipe organs. These samples appear both in their natural state, and modulated by the feedback signals. The use of this stop began with the earliest incarnations of the composition, suggesting the ironic title of Real Nightingales.

The recording: St Paul's Pianos With Real Nightingales

The two compositions were combined in a recording made in early 2007. A cue sheet was made using chance operations, to determine the entry and exits of each of the main elements: the pianos, the feedback, and the nightingales. The final recording runs for a little over 74 minutes. The mp3 excerpt begins about eight minutes into the piece, just before the entrance of the first piano, and continues until the end of the third piano.

Ben.Harper, 2007.

St Paul's Pianos With Real Nightingales, © Ben.Harper 2005-07. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Hackney. A Cooky La Moo production, edition number 27.