Music for an Imaginary Ballet
for jazz/rock sextet and orchestra — 1976
The exact details of this are hazy now, but in 1974 or ’75 I was approached by a strange woman who had got my name from somewhere and had a large scale ballet project in mind, for performance in the Royal Albert Hall, no less. I recall coming up with some sketches, which I played through to her as best I could on the piano. She was enthusiastic, especially about my plans to use both jazz/rock (I had in mind some of the musicians from my Perfect Stranger band) and ‘classical’ elements. I even went with her to meet Miss Herrod, who was at that time in charge of the bookings at the RAH (and who achieved notoriety over the cancellation of a performance of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels) to discuss booking the hall. It all came to nothing, I never received any payment and the strange woman vanished from everyone’s radar.
By this time I was left with a fair amount of material, which I showed to my conductor mentor Elgar Howarth. He thought it looked interesting but needed pulling into some sort of shape, which I set about doing, ending up with a c.23 minute piece in five continuous sections.
The sextet parts are a mixture of written and improvised music: the rhythm instruments (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums) provide improvised accompaniment at various points, and all six have designated improvised solos. The orchestral music is for the most part relatively conventional, although there is some quasi-aleatoric writing here and there.
I have made a MIDI recording which you can hear below, but please note: I’m not really a jazzer, so the improvised solos in this recording are distinctly dodgy! On the other hand I couldn’t just leave them empty, so please don’t take them too literally, and try and imagine what really good jazz players might come up with.
- flute 1, flute 2 / alto flute, flute 3 / piccolo
- oboes 1 & 2, oboe 3 / cor anglais
- B flat clarinet 1, B flat clarinet 2 / E flat clarinet, B flat clarinet 3 / bass clarinet
- bassoons 1 & 2, bassoon 3 / contrabassoon
- 4 horns in F with standard horn mutes
- C trumpets 1 & 2 with straight, harmon & plunger mutes
- B flat trumpets 3 & 4 with straight, harmon & plunger mutes
- (tenor) trombones 1 & 2 with straight & harmon mutes
- (tenor-bass) trombones 3 & 4 with straight & harmon mutes
- tuba, with standard tuba mute
- 2 harps
- piano / celesta
- percussion 1: glockenspiel, 3 pedal timpani, 3 cowbells, piatti (small), large tam-tam
- percussion 2: vibraphone, xylophone, piatti (medium), guiro, 3 woodblocks, 2 congas, bass drum
- percussion 3: crôtales, vibraphone, marimba, sleigh bells, piatti (large), 3 temple blocks, 2 bongos, 2 timbales
- sextet: soprano / tenor saxophone
- sextet: trombone with mutes
- sextet: keyboards — electric piano / clavinet (or sampled equivalents)
- sextet: electric guitar
- sextet: electric bass guitar (optionally doubling fretted and fretless)
- sextet: drums
- 12 violins I
- 12 violins II
- 10 violas
- 10 cellos
- 8 double basses
Performances / broadcasts / recordings
This got as far as the BBC’s ‘accepted if offered’ category, but was never offered... anyone?
Listen to MIDI version (22:57)
This is the identical recording twice, the choice being offered in case of technical hiccups on either of the ‘mother ships’. Note: these two players will run simultaneously, so unless you fancy a double dose (out of sync) of my ‘spiritual output’, I recommend that you take care to avoid this happening!
This a computer-generated mockup of music entirely or partially for ‘real’ instruments. Clearly it is no substitute for a live performance, but it’s all I’ve got — or perhaps all I can make public for various reasons. There’s a fuller disclaimer on the Listen page.
...with a sneak preview of the score
Or just in case YouTube isn’t co-operating today...
- Sequencer: MOTU Digital Performer (Mac)
- Each part recorded dry to a mono audio track; each family group (eg, flutes, trumpets, violas) positioned for final stereo mix and mixed to a stereo track; remaining mono tracks positioned for stereo mix. Gentle application of MOTU MasterWorks Compressor to bass guitar and drums; MOTU Spatial Maximizer mid/side processor used to boost the top end in the side channel; reverb is MOTU ProVerb.
- Saxophones: Sample Modeling Saxophones (host: SWAM engine)
- Solo trombone: Sample Modeling The Trombone (host: Native Instruments Kontakt 5)
- Electric piano: Modartt Pianoteq 4 (Rhody)
- Clavinet: Scarbee Vintage Keys (host: Kontakt 5)
- Electric guitar: MusicLab RealStrat
- Fretted bass guitar: Kontakt Factory Library/Band/Classic Bass (host: Kontakt 5)
- Fretless bass guitar: Scarbee MM-Bass (host: Kontakt 5) with MOTU Analog Chorus
- Bass guitar harmonics: Garritan Jazz & Big Band/Fretless Bass 1 (host: Aria Player) with MOTU Analog Chorus
- Drums: Various components from Abbey Road 60s Drums (2 different kits), Kontakt Factory Library/Band/Central Stage Kit and Jazz Kit (host: Kontakt 5)
- Woodwinds: EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwind (host: Play)
- Brass: Sample Modeling Horn & Tuba; The Trumpet; The Trombone (host: Kontakt 5)
- Harps: Kontakt Factory Library/VSL Strings (host: Kontakt 5)
- Piano, Celesta, Vibraphone, Marimba: Modartt Pianoteq 4
- Glockenspiel: Spitfire Audio Producer Portfolio, Frank Ricotti Glock (host: Kontakt 5)
- Xylophone: Kontakt Factory Library/VSL Percussion (host: Kontakt 5)
- Crôtales, timpani: My own instruments (host: Kontakt 5)
- Sleigh bells: Garritan Personal Orchestra/Percussion Toys (host: Aria Player)
- Other unpitched percussion: Native Instruments Battery 3
- Section strings: Spitfire Audio Sable Strings, doubled or tripled as necessary (host: Kontakt 5)
- Solo violins, violas and cellos: Spitfire Audio Solo Strings (host: Kontakt 5)
- Solo double basses: Kontakt Factory Library/VSL Strings (host: Kontakt 5)
- Score: MakeMusic Finale
- Movie: Apple iMovie
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