Soprano sax, alto flute & piano by Theo Travis
The Electric Nocturnes began as six pieces written at night on my iPad...Electric Nocturnes!!! They were experiments to see what came to mind just before dozing off. They are gentle and almost hypnotic in nature...Very slow and with a tendency to drift into different keys.
I returned to them a few years later and added a seventh, decided that I had more to say with them and made the number up to ten. I noticed when looking back that they were a set of ten variations on the same harmonic material, rhythmic repertoire and melodic snippets and so I called them Book 1. I felt I wanted to write more and so began on Book 2 with Electric Nocturne No. 11. I wasn’t long into it before I realised that I was writing a direct variation on No. 1 which opened up an interesting idea...Why not make Book 2 a set of variations of each nocturne in Book 1 sequentially. ie. 11 is a variation on 1, 12 is a variation on 2 and so on.
I’ve always loved to find patterns in things. I remember being fascinated with ‘numbers stations’ which were shortwave radio transmissions thought to be clandestine messages beamed to spies ‘in the field’ in opposing nations. I used to spend hours as a boy searching for these signals on my radio and noting them down.
So, it didn’t take me long to come up with the idea of writing a set of ten books of Electric Nocturnes, each subsequent set being a variation on the preceding. The idea of a block of ten tens intrigued me and the more I thought about it, the more beguiling this idea became...One hundred pieces which could be thought of as a grid of interrelated movements.
As a composer of mostly shorter pieces (this method of delivery being influenced by the work of Erik Satie and Percy Grainger and the rejection of traditional forms by John White*, Gavin Bryars and the English Experimentalists), structure and form are always very close to mind. Also, I already have the ongoing orchestral series ‘Multiple Field Sketches’ as a format I return to from time to time, so the Electric Nocturnes would be the same (albeit with a finite end).
I also began to see different ways of performing them live.
Picking any number of favoured ones to perform sequentially together...Completely random.
Playing a set of ten (my preferred way) which would take around fifteen to twenty minutes per book. A whole book, or set of books could be performed in order, but there are other interesting possibilities...a) playing the first from one book, the second from another etc... This could be done at will (certain orders will have different feels and could even be named, like the numbers stations were, or like different sets in change ringing) or randomly (with a random number generator, cards or a ten sided dice etc...). More exotic ways would be to play all the first nocturnes in each book, making a true set of variations. This could be done with no gap between which would be very hypnotic as the key remains the same throughout...A mini ‘Vexations’-like performance, or a diagonal path through the books (1, 12, 23 etc...) which would be the most varied cycle.
A listener will be able to take part in this programming too, using playlists on their favoured streaming platform. You can find some available playlists to the left of this page and I would love to hear other people’s takes on orders and combinations. As more artists record the Electric Nocturnes, more layers of variability become possible as the performances are are added to the list of recordings. There is also the possibility of arrangements for different instruments/ensembles (Kevin Riley has orchestrated nocturnes 1 to 6 (which were all that were available at the time)) and I will be making more arrangements myself at some point too. UPDATE: Arrangements featuring alto flute, soprano sax and violin are either now available or in progress! As such, the Electric Nocturnes could be seen as being organically linked to the process of playlist curation.
You can see what nocturne I am working on currently at the foot of this text and I have also started a Patreon account which features free progress reports and options to receive sheet music and audio for a small fee to cover time/costs. One hundred pieces seem quite a long way away, but the idea of ten variations on a set of ten variations is something that will keep me busy and interested for some time!
Please stay tuned!
*I remember in particular attending concerts at the Huddersfield Festival and at the ICA which featured a set of symphonies by John White. These were for a smallish ensemble and consisted of four movements each, all derived from the same material, but differently ordered. There was an afternoon workshop session with a Q&A before the concert and I remember that Felix Aprahamian was rather grumpy and voiced his displeasure at some of the innovations in the concert...Particularly the use of a toy sheep-bleating contraption which was used at the end of each one of the symphonies’ second movements!
Currently working on...
Electric Nocturne No. 63
For free regular updates and options to access sheet music and audio previews before they are publically available...