Hannah Money asked me several years ago to compose a piece for her giant African
Snails! I have to admit to being not a little perplexed. Sometime later I met one
of these incredible creatures and had a long close look......an unforgettable moment!
It was like looking through a window into a strange and wondrous alien world. For
me, this experience made more potent the wonder of the natural world we live in.
I also have young children who constantly marvel and delight in creatures of all
sorts. They often overcome initial feelings of fear in order to pick up and befriend
something to which an adult may not give a second thought - the occasional snail
gets the better of their curiosity and is taken under their wing. Grown-ups are
frequently forced to give the world of small animals, with strange and varied methods
of locomotion, a second thought. Beyond fear there is fascination, discovery and
a different space.
I found all this rather exotic, inspiring and quite profound. This was now something
I wanted to express. Hannah had asked that I make the piece playable and approachable
for an intermediate, not just an advanced player. In the end I have used techniques
unfamiliar to both intermediate and advanced flautists so I hope it will be an achievable
and fun challenge for all.
In order to remove some of the apprehension about these unfamiliar techniques I have
set out some exercises that will give you a plan of attack should you need one. I
think I can safely say that they are not poisonous or harmful ...... although you
may dream quarter-tones for a few days, they have no teeth or slimy bits!
The piece can be interpreted on a number of different levels. The descriptive element
is hopefully self-evident and fun to explore but perhaps more importantly, some sense
of the marvel of living things and hence connection with our own existence is also
Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to my wife and Hannah for their enthusiasm
The following has been compiled from some of the email conversations with respect
to dissertations and programme notes on Spiral Lament.
Did you learn about quarter tones and special effects or did you create them
“I learnt about the special effects from various sources who in turn learnt much
of what they know from other sources. There are moments where I may have pushed
the boundaries. My use of them is perhaps individual and I am more interested in
the ends rather than the means. Knowledge is often more of a continuum than it may
first may appear. There are of course exceptions to this. With respect to the quarter-tones
I think the solo piece 'Mei' by Fukushima is probably the first flute piece I remember
coming across that explicitly used them; in themselves they are rather more ancient
and occur in all sorts of non 'European classical' scales. I was greatly influenced
by a solo piece called 'Xi' by Stockhausen which consists almost entirely of quarter-tone
and micro-tone scales; this is a little known piece partly because of its difficulty
but one that certainly pushes the western flute into new territory .... again unaccompanied
.... it doesn't however use any of the 1/4 tone grace note idea in Spiral Lament
- this use is unlike any other piece I can think of whilst seeming to be a completely
natural inflected decoration. The idea of substituting fingers to get different
colours originally came from Robert Dick's 'Tone Development Through Extended Techniques'
which is book I recommend you get. He is a very influential American flute player-composer
who has done a great deal to disseminate ideas about extended techniques on the flute.”
………My main interest was the phrase you used in your introduction "Beyond fear there
is fascination, discovery and a different space"
“This is partly a metaphor for the performer approaching a piece like this for the
first time i.e. in reference to its expanded technical language. It is also an encouragement
to discover something beyond the seemingly superficial descriptive layer of the music
and view the world from a new philosophical and emotional snail's perspective ....
presumably snails aren't afraid of themselves and this hypothetical view point could
be extended to many small creatures. As a flautist this gives scope for subtleties
of connections, shadings and colourings in the opening for example which is initiated
by the other colours explicitly given to the opening notes”