Well, it’s hard to believe but almost two months have gone by since my last post on here. I’m now right in the thick of the writing process and in just over a month’s time we’ll be performing the music. This is quite a daunting thought, mainly because my June and July were dominated by an unexpected chronic case of writer’s block.
The composing process is different for everyone, but in my case it always starts with improvising. I tend to sit down at the piano or with my sax and generate lots of starting points: these could be melodies, riffs, a chord sequence, or just a rhythm. I’ve got a big manuscript book especially for collecting this stuff, so for a while my writing time will be taken up with random material generation. For me this is the fun part, and it feels extremely productive. Unfortunately what follows is the actual work, the real meat of the project, the bit that takes the longest: using the ideas to create fully fledged and coherent pieces of music.
At the end of June/beginning of July, I had a growing set of these starting points and I felt like I was on track. I had even sketched out some vague plans for most of the pieces. This was a good feeling. It was all in hand! However, I soon realised that I was stuck at that stage. Whenever I tried to think about the overall structure of the set of music as a whole, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get a sense of what the thing was, or move any of the pieces forward from their sketchy beginnings. I had all the components but I couldn’t join them up to make something finished. It was terrifying! It went on for several weeks.
During that time I busied myself with other projects, or what could also be called displacement activities. Luckily I had loads booked in: Ripsaw Catfish had some gigs in Holland and Belgium, the first LUME Festival was happening, I was working on a grant application, my flat needed some TLC following a flooding incident earlier in the year, Manchester Jazz Festival was on....there were plenty of diversions. I guiltily went around doing all these things, trying to ignore the block and hoping it would go away. Thankfully, this worked. At the start of August I got up one day with an amazing sense of clarity about the music. That day I arranged all the starting points into pieces, gave them titles and put them in plastic wallets (okay yeah, stationery is important to me). I could suddenly see the whole project laid out in front of me and I knew what I wanted it to be like. Relief!
Now I just have to finish it...
- Cath Roberts, Artist in Residence 2016
Cath Roberts will headline Lancaster Jazz Festival on Saturday 17th September at The Dukes. For more info and for tickets go here.