There was a Telephone

by Seán Clancy

There was a Telephone was commissioned by Listenpony, and first performed at Listenpony #21, March 2022, by James Larter.

Sean writes of the piece:
I think about titles a lot. One of my favourite things is giving a piece a title. The piece I wrote for Listenpony was called 'There was a Telephone', and it is a line from the children’s book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. This is a story that I’ve been reading to my son for the past three years. It’s really great, as it’s essentially just about making observations about our surroundings. My piece is a rhythmic translation line-for-line of this book, though I’m using abstracted speech rhythms rather than literal ones. One syllable words became crochets, two syllable words became quavers, and three syllable words became triplet quavers, though the score is slightly less prescriptive than this. The piece is repeated three times with slower and slower tempo markings, much as we read and re-read stories at bedtime. I also like the title of this piece, because it kind of makes me think of something Robert Ashely might call a piece. Ashely of course, was one of the great innovators surrounding text and music, so I feel his presence a little in this piece. I have not prescribed the sounds that the performer should use, but rather the number of sounds per beat (from one sound to three sounds), so the performer has some agency over the soundworld of the piece. My only request is that the sounds are relatively quiet. This degree of freedom is something that I’ve put more and more into my work over the last five years or so, after many years of being incredibly specific. For me, it puts myself and performers more in a dialogue, people I trust implicitly. It also affords me to be opportunity to be surprised and delighted by situations that I may establish, and this has been invigorating as a creator. Specifying only the number of sounds and/or actions to be used, rather than the actual sounds themselves is something that I tried for the first time in this piece, and have continued to use in a couple of other pieces since. I’m finding it very fruitful. More globally, the piece relates to what I might call, composition as lived experience, or simply that the material quite directly comes from part of my life. In a way, I try not to make a distinction between composition, performance, and other aspects of life. Writing a piece, or performing are no different to doing the dishes, or getting my son ready for school etc. It’s all just stuff that happens/has to be done… It’s a necessity. The piece is quite straightforward and is available for anyone who wants to play it, just get in touch!

Perhaps the closest thing to this piece is my latest album Inventions and Canons. It’s got the same openness and also deals with composition as a lived experience.

Seán Clancy

Seán Clancy is an experimental composer and performer from Ireland. His practice is mostly involved with the act of translating non-musical things into music, and he writes music for acoustic instruments, electronic instruments, environmental sounds, and people doing things in performance not involving any instruments at all.

James Larter

More commissions from Listenpony #21, March 2022

  1. Isabella Gellis: Bowed and Blowed
  2. William Marsey: No Verticals