Swirling Leaves is published!

Swirling Leaves Booklet (1)

I am very happy to say that Edition Tre Fontane have just published the score to my music Swirling Leaves. It is for two tenor recorders, bass recorder, and contrabass recorder.

If you play the recorder with other people and have the great joy of having these lower instruments to play AND feel ready for a fun rhythmic challenge: this is the piece for you!

It is available on the Edition Tre Fontane website here.

My original blogpost about the music and Geri Bollinger’s inspiring tenor recorders is here.

Push play to listen to my recording of it with Geri:

 

Breath & Bow

La Manfredina & Tristan’s Lament (Late 14th century Italian dance music, arranged by Racheal Cogan)

Christine Williams – cello; Racheal Cogan – Eagle recorder.

Christine Williams and I have formed a new duo called Breath & Bow. I love working with Christine’s beautiful rich sounds on her cello and thinking about all of the possibilities of repertoire and new music to write and arrange for us.

We made our first recording a few weeks ago – an arrangement of two Medieval pieces called La Manfredina and Tristan’s Lament. It was fun, and just the beginning of a lot more recording sessions lined up for some of the music we have been working on together over the past four months.

Working intensively on this piece together was a great learning experience for both of us in learning to listen to each other and nut out how we aesthetically want to bring these two instruments and our very different musical backgrounds together.  Repertoire is a big one, I’ve been arranging different styles to hear what works and have some sketches of original compositions I will be working on. Then there are all of the aesthetic technical choices: how much vibrato do we want, so that we can grow into matching the vibratos together; what are our choices in slowing down and breath? And of course : ornamentation.

I’m choosing the Eagle recorder for a lot of our work together, it has a few more notes and a louder sound that seems to match the cello nicely.

Take a listen to our music together – we hope that you enjoy it. There will be much more to come, some more Mediterranean styles, and an arrangement I have been working on of a stunning piece by Hildegard von Bingen written about 900 or so years ago!

Stay tuned….

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When I Am Laid in Earth

When I Am Laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament from the opera Dido and Aeneas)

by Henry Purcell (ca. 1659 – 1695)

Voice, recorders, arrangement, and recording by Racheal Cogan

Recorders: Bass, c-Bass and 2 Contrabasses made by Geri Bollinger

When I began thinking about an arrangement for this beautiful song over a ground bass, I knew that I wanted to use four of the very low recorders in a very simple way to underpin the clarity and purity of the high voice. Simplicity and solemnity in the beginning was key to match the idea of being laid in the earth, and as the concept of suicide bleeds deeper into the song, so the recorders speak louder and become more complex with the eloquent lyrics and melody that have travelled to us through almost four hundred years in time.

Each project I embark upon is another opportunity for a learning curve. This time it wasn’t so much a curve as a cliff face; each different component of the whole presented new problems and asked for a lot of re-thinking and re-learning and re-peating… and all I was looking for was simplicity!  In a first recording of all the parts the silent click track sternly dictated all movement and didn’t suit the beautiful breathing sentiment that the music asked for.  So I spent a couple of days working on a tempo map,  to pause, to slow down, to speed up as if each part was hand in hand with the other, breathing as one. Then I patiently re-recorded and re-mixed it all fresh again.

The deep, deep contrabass recorder had also been sounding murky and muddy in it’s two lines weaving throughout this very short piece. I spent days patiently examining changes in EQ, and listening to other options – but they didn’t help it to sparkle either. In the end it took a skype call with my friend Geri (the maker) to point out to me the importance of crook placement (the crook is the metal curvy part joining at the top of the instrument – see drawing below). So I re-recorded those two lines and then balanced and mixed the piece again. But wow, now I can hear those lines in all of their richness. A little more light started coming in.

Dido's Lament

Then the voice: I have now been working on singing and having regular lessons for five years (!). I feel like it is still very much a work in progress, especially compared to the recorders which I have been playing now for 40 years (though I’m always still learning on those as well!). I have an awesome singing teacher (Robert Poliquin) who helps me stay on track, and I had a recording of the vocal part that I thought was passable. But Robert gently suggested it still needed some work.  My broad Australian dipthongs generally don’t help with un-muddling clarity and projection (it also doesn’t help that they feel so damn wonderful and familiar to use so when I live so far away from home). The rest is about freedom – mainly involving a lengthening of the mouth and absolutely no tension in the jaw; hell, try that all of you night time teeth grinders (me too…).  And then projecting a very high ‘c’ through some imagined space above the jaw bones inside your head resonating towards the top of your skull with the jaw completely relaxed, fearlessly knowing that beauty will come (one day).  The thought warrior makes music once again. But that’s what we musicians are and what we do – always balancing the possible with the impossible, with the smallest of micro movements in the body and spirit.

So I re-recorded the voice, and then some recorder parts so they would work hand in hand again. Now it is time to move onto a fresh challenge and bring with me all that I learned on this one.

Thank you so much Geri and Robert for your support, friendship and insightful comments that lead me further down this rabbit hole. I might not have seemed very happy to do the work, but my gratitude for the changes you help to bring about is immense. Months of work translated into 3 minutes of sound! And it’s never good enough, never art enough; the only sanity is to remember that it is all about the journey.

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dreamscape

Dreamscape (Racheal Cogan 2015)

Recorders (tenor, contrabass), voices and other sounds.

Recorders designed and made by Geri Bollinger.

Thank you Andrew, Geri, and Violaine for listening and being there.

This  soundscape is set in a dreamlike environment and the result of one of my favorite writing styles. The music developed from a very simple start experimenting with the looper on Ableton Live and adding to these sounds to create a structure that supported the music. At the start it was a very organic way of creating and layering that felt less like work and more like an opening of the self to a dreaming –  an inward looking form of creation that allows me to channel creativity rather than try to control it.

Nearer to completion, the music became crowded and lost its essence;  I spent days trying to pull it apart and re-work it – and everything just seemed to make it worse – less cohesive, muddy in both sound and texture, and just plain … lost. Eventually I sat with it quietly, erased even more, teased some more space into it so it could breathe again, and this time, I think I have it. Whatever it was meant to be is, and it is time to let it go and move on.

I kept a very open and minimal musical landscape (drenched in various delays and reverbs), with sparse and simple melodic lines to tie the whole together and give the mind something to sing with and rest with whilst listening to the music and the spaces in-between.

The percussion sounds are from the recorder. When you strike the holes/keys with the pads of your fingers it’s a very cool percussive sound – but it’s quite soft; in the recording environment it can be made loud and awesome. The bass-like sounds are also recorder percussion from a deep contrabass – pretty cool! These watery percussion sounds move seamlessly out of the real water sounds that surround us a few times in this piece. The metaphor of the water is cleansing the memory of the dream that went before.

Several ideas are threaded throughout this piece:

When I go for long drives by myself I often pass the time with my version of overtone singing – it keeps me awake and alert, at the same time being meditative (especially after an hour or so) and calming.  I had been doing some long driving whilst working on the music and the sound was very present – so I tried using some of that. Whilst working the overtone singing through the piece, it struck me that some airy whistling sounds would bring a nice high frequency wash – so I spent some time softly whistling into a microphone to find the ‘right’ sound I had imagined. Some of it sounds like it is between radio frequencies, other parts like wind over sand. From the desert to the ocean and tuning the dream to move between channels.

A sound that is woven through Dreamscape represents engines turning on at spaced intervals keeping a ship in space on the correct path (informed by the copious amounts of sci-fi literature I have consumed). It’s a metaphor for the part of the dreaming that keeps us on the path through all of the divergent twists and turns that our lives take, reminding us that we are traveling in the cocoon of our vehicle, be it our own bodies or the earth itself.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta

The next piece I’m currently working on is an arrangement of a song by Purcell for four/five recorders and voice – quite a different adventure to this one. Stay tuned!

The River Sings

The River Sings

(Racheal Cogan 2015)

All instruments designed and built by Geri Bollinger

G Alto played by Geri Bollinger

Tenor, Bass, and Great Bass played by Racheal Cogan

Mixing by Racheal Cogan

The River Sings took me a long time to write. I knew what I wanted, I could hear it in my head, but it began slowly: first with the harmonic ideas and voicings after which the melodies started to seep their way in through the music. After that it became like a big jigsaw puzzle that you only have a very blurry photo of (with some bits missing): but when it all comes together you know that this is exactly what it was always supposed to be. When I first conceived this music the main feeling was of a serenity with movement. When my partner heard a first ‘sketch’ for the quartet his response was: “but nothing is happening”. I was, much to his consternation, delighted by this comment, because that was the exact idea – movement within the quiet, somewhat like a river that looks still and makes very little sound but is flowing: ever moving, ever changing.

The River Sings is written for a quartet of modern recorders with unique headpieces designed and built by my dear friend in Switzerland, Geri Bollinger.

Thank you Geri for making these great instruments that are pushing the boundaries of my recorder playing and writing: opening up so many musical timbres, textures, dynamics and … possibilities.

(The music can also be performed using a more standard recorder quartet of Alto, Tenor, Bass, and Great Bass.)

the river sings  photo by Geri Bollinger

Spirit

 
Vocals – Robert Poliquin, Racheal Cogan
Tenor and C-Bass Recorders – Racheal. Instruments designed and built by Geri Bollinger.

Many, many thanks to Robert Poliquin for contributing his beautiful singing to this project.

Spirit

(music and lyrics Racheal Cogan 2015)

For a friend.

What made you lose your spirit?
Your spirit, your spirit.
My friend – my friend, my friend.
What made you lose
(your loss)

Your spirit my friend, my friend.

Unravel, unraveling.

What dark places
(darkness)
What dark places did you visit?
My friend.
Who kept watch for you ?
Through the night

My friend, my friend.

Unravel, unraveling.

What litany of poverty, heartbreak, and loss brought you to this?

My friend, my friend.

I know how you lost your spirit my friend.

I know how you lost your spirit my friend.

The ——– wind ——– blows ——- through me.

chinook from my window
chinook arch from my window

Music for a Cavern

Racheal Cogan – Composition, Mixing, Alto recorders, Tenor recorders, Bass recorders, C Bass recorders, Kitchen Bowls.

Geri Bollinger – Contrabass Recorders.

The Baroque style Alto recorder is made by Michael Grinter, all of the other recorders are made and designed by Geri Bollinger.

Music for a Cavern is dedicated to my dad, Robert Cogan, in his 70th year.

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Plug into a set of headphones or good speakers, push play, sit back quietly closing  your eyes and imagine that you are alone in a large cavern.

Most of the sounds here are from the recorders, including the atmospheric wind sounds from blowing through the recorder whilst covering the sound hole at the front. I was quite surprised and impressed at the sounds of the wind from my  new C Bass recorder – they were way more beautiful and expressive than I had imagined. The percussive gong like sounds are all derived from a set of four stainless steel mixing bowls – once again, they came through more beautifully than I could have expected.  My partner and I use the mixing bowls daily in the kitchen for food prep and I had to steal them for a while to make the sounds for this piece – thanks Andrew for your understanding. Thank you Geri for playing the Contrabass and your invaluable feedback on the music as it developed.

Thanks also to members of the Edmonton Recorder Society for being the first group of people to play through the score and show me how awesome and fun it would be to perform this piece live.

For live performance this piece asks for 10 people on recorders and one or two people for the bowls, gongs, bells and metal sounds. An ideal performance space would be large and resonant (like a cavern).

Yangshou - China

Yangshuo – China

Photo taken in 2009 on a visit to Yangshuo – famous for it’s mountains of karst, winding rivers, and the many caves and caverns.