Night Sun (2/6) – Music

Posted on Mar 7, 2014 in Night Sun


The sound of a music-box can be pretty transportive. They sound innocent, brittle, beautiful. They can also sound pretty spooky in the right context (empty room with a rocking rocking chair/Candyman).

I love writing with a music-box because they’re quite restrictive. No sharp or flat ‘tines’, so you’re writing in Cmajor or thereabouts. Although the music-box’s C is actually G#, so the key you end up in is an interesting one. At the project briefing, I’d talked with Sharon Scaniglia (Nottingham City Council’s Principal Arts Officer) and Saira Lloyd (Light Night 2014 Curator) about looping the eight bars of twinkly music-box melody, and letting the string quartet lead the music-box through minor and major chords that warp the mood, conjuring feelings of Dread as well as Hope (Hope & Peace being the themes of Light Night 2014).

Here’s what writing for a music box looks like, punching holes in a strip of card, that you then feed through the toy instrument to listen to what you’ve written:

  • You have to stamp it out to see what it sounds like, and then adjust spacings between notes to suit the speed of the music box handle
  • musicboxroll_1

The music box melody I used for Night Sun was actually quite old. I’d made a demo of it a few years ago while working on Twinklebox. The only time it’s ever been heard by anyone but me was in complete darkness in the middle of a forest, when it was included in The Dark Outside radio broadcast 2012. It seemed apt that it would be brought out into the light for Light Night.

2014 is the centenary year of World War One, hence the Light Night themes of Peace & Hope. In my opinion, the most harrowingly visual piece of war themed music is Górecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’.

I spent a while playing the piano along to the music-box melody, seeing what chords worked. At some point, I went low and minor and doomy and slow, and the Górecki-esque sound made me feel hollow and dark. Playing it into Cubase with a synth double bass made it sound really evil. This would become the start of the piece:

The score was finished on a Monday, and the studio & string quartet were booked for the Friday of the same week. I booked Derby-based Derventio Quartet because they’d done radio and recording sessions, and seemed pretty open to playing whatever you put in front of them.

Out of everything involved in Night Sun, it was this part that I reckon was the most thrilling (recording professional string players playing my score) and scary (paying four lots of musician’s rates and having to get everything done in a short amount of time). I needn’t've worried though. As well as the score being fine, the quartet were confident and accommodating.

The original score now has a ton of pencil marks on it, where the players mark where to bow, which positions the notes sound best in, and what to listen out for from the other three in the quartet.

The track ‘Night Sun’ will be released as a single later this year, along with an app version of the installation (to come with a free download of the track).

The session was engineered by Robin Newman, and mixed by Rich Collins. All in less than a day. A really really good day.

Next: Night Sun – Story

Previous: Night Sun – Introduction

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