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A collaboration between composer Colin Riley and jazz saxophonist Tim Whitehead (Interactive Music)

'Tides' is an album of pieces which have been created through extensive research and collaboration. Each piece explores a way of fusing composed music with improvisation to create a third 'stream'; a language which can enable creativity to take place.

The players taking part in this exploration were Jennifer Stinton (flute), Sue Gill (clarinet), Tim Whitehead (tenor saxophone), Dick Pierce (trumpet), Hilary Sturt and Joanna Parker (violins), Andrew Byrt (viola), Sophie Harris ('cello), Sam Burgess (double bass), Liam Noble (piano), Milo Fell (drums), Robert Millett (percussion).

  1. While It Lasts
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  2. Bird
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  3. Oil On Water
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  4. I know Who The Alligators Are
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  5. Near East
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  6. Another View Of Annet
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  7. When Soft Voices Die
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The exerpts are in MP3 format. To hear the excerpts click on either 96Kbps, 192Kbps or 320Kbps depending upon the speed of your internet connection. Note: you must have a media player capable of playing MP3 files. Click here to download Windows Media Player

Colin Riley writes about:

Harmony as a catalyst for improvising lines

Harmony is very central to my process of composition. I very often start with a chord and work outwards from there. I create chords that do not have any connection with my knowledge of traditional harmony. I follow my ear in other ways. Other sets of rules obviously come into play. The result gives a nod both towards atonality and towards elements of traditional and jazz harmony. My harmony stems from the physicality of the piano keyboard. It is for example, very often in 4-parts; 2 notes in each hand. The way I develop harmony from a single chord very often springs from the play between the interval in the right hand and the interval in the left hand. For this project I have tried to set up an ambiguous harmony so that the contribution of the jazz improviser will pull it in a new direction or re-shape it in a fresh light.

[See score extract]

Improvising Lines as a catalyst for harmony.

One particular piece uses improvisation as its starting point. A free, three minute improvisation was recorded using hard disk recording techniques and then edited and manipulated via the Logic Audio sequencing programme. The improvised line was notated in full and a score was created where all the harmony arose from this source.

[See score extract]

Dialogue between Colin Riley and Tim Whitehead taken from a recorded interview on 9th May 2001.

Colin … this is a search that’s been three and a half years in the making and well worth it. I like to get involved in projects where I don't know the outcome. Collaboration normally sets up that situation. It places me in a more meaningful role as a composer. It's a chance to hang out and work with other artists, in this case jazz musicians. What about you?

Tim A few years ago I realised it was really important for me to be open to whatever happens - and when I heard your music I thought, "This is fantastic. I would love to be involved in this in some way." Not knowing how or anything like that, but just responding to that instinct. When we started the project we didn't know where it was going to go but we decided we'd try different ways of writing together. It was only later we owned up that we needed a larger ensemble which was a more frightening prospect. But we went for it because we realised that was what we really wanted to do to give full expression to our ideas.

Colin Yes, what we're doing is irrational. It's about setting off and seeing where it takes you, like the movement of water; like when we first put up some notes for the players on those early sessions with Liam, Sam and Milo and people thinking "Wow, what’s this?", and me farting around with a keyboard and with pre-recorded sequences in the studio. I knew there was something interesting about what we were doing because people didn't get it … it was placing people in a different area.

Colin What we're trying to do is important; the search for a new musical language which has a resonance - a validity - that works.

Tim Yes, we've been trying to find a language common to both of us.

Colin … and which isn't a compromise; which is the opposite of a compromise. It's bringing out something which is unexpected and better than we thought.

Tim Listening to the performance of work in progress from 1997 and then the rehearsals last year, the developments are really remarkable. Things like 'Bird' have gone through many metamorphoses, like shedding skins. Lots of things we tried and abandoned. It's all about the passage of time and the movement of ourselves in an exchange, and it's about finding in the flow of all this, a voice and for me, throwing myself into some uncertainty. It's about being in rehearsals and the recordings, and watching the way the players from the so-called jazz world and the so-called classical world were grappling and working to meet each other half way to find that language we struggled as composers to find.

Colin Certainly 'Tides' are what its about; unstoppable forces which move over a long period of time backwards and forwards so that your not sure what influences have been brought to bear by the other person to produce the finished piece. For instance the chord sequence I gave to you which you made into 'Near East' I found the other day. I played it through and thought "Blimey, he's really used a lot of that." The process of forgetting that a lot of those chords were mine is somehow magical. Water mixed together?

Tim The interesting thing for me about 'Near East' was when I first put your chord up on the piano and played them I immediately knew where it was going.

Colin The opposite is the case for me. I didn't know where to go with them! There have been other challenges as well, because its all a new area. We've notated the whole of an improvisation for instance …

Tim … and you orchestrated it.

Colin … and the mixing; deciding on production values. To say it's been easy wouldn't do justice to what we've done. And this is just the tip of the iceberg …

Colin Riley, June 2001
Lecturer in Music
Brunel University