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“The Rape of Lavinia”
1998 ℗ SoundTrax Music Library
Download Lavinia.wav Right click to download 42.8 mb
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“The Rape of Lavinia” was originally written for a theatrical production that, like so many, was a great idea that never happened. The idea was to stage Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus in a quarry, and gradually flood the stage with mud through the production, symbolic of the entire cast drowning in their own degradation. This particular scene involves the rape and mutilation of Titus’ daughter. Lavinia’s final act before being killed by her father in order to preserve her honour, is to scrawl the names of her attackers in the sand the with the bloody stumps of her arms – her hands and her tongue having been cut off. Charming stuff!

In keeping with the hyper-real ethos of the piece, and the concept that no-one is purely victim or culprit in this play, the protagonists would never actually touch her, but she would cover herself in the rising mud as they circle her like sharks. We envisaged an orchestral score for Titus, either live or recorded, and I wrote a few pieces to get the juices flowing, using MIDI and and samples. Ultimately the piece was recorded by members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and released as production music by the SoundTrax music library, where it has enjoyed some success.

Musically, Lavinia shares some characteristics with much of my music. It has a strong, unchanging tonal centre and a relentless pulse. The gradual, rather linear build and somewhat ambiguous movement between major and minor is also a common element. While the pulsing violas and melody are representative of the men, the change beginning at 2:23 brings Lavinia’s perspective to the fore and sees her running to and fro smearing mud and filth on her person, acknowledging her own position in the scheme of things, but facing it with a certain nobility. Throughout I wanted to portray a sense of relentless cruelty – that any character is capable of any act of violence without remorse. I guess in a theatrical setting, the audience really knows what is about to happen – there are no surprises left in Shakespeare.

The process of composition was very much centred on the pulsing “ground”. The melody was originally conceived on the piano, but I felt this sound did not fit either character. The addition of the harmony made the piano more bell-like and perhaps indicate the mourning of family. In the centre section, each of the four interweaving lines were directly improvised on keyboard using string samples, so I had the aural feedback, starting with the high melody and the cello. I strongly recall the feelings I had doing this, of high tension, a breath-holding intensity. They were not easy, flowing melodies but charged with power and force – I can only describe it as anger, though I think this description is inadequate. These feeling come back to me when I listen, as I recall the writing process, the sounds, the weight of the headphones, and the night that I could not sleep for the melodies going around my head. These parts were then adjusted in the score editor of the sequencer. It is rare for me to produce a score, although I do use a score editor when dealing with orchestral sounds. In this case however I had the opportunity to have the piece recorded by an orchestra and it was too good to miss. The strings were recorded in Prague – I added the piano in the studio in Sydney.

There ended up being a couple of edits in the recording, as the violas lost their place somewhere and could be heard in the spot mics asking for position in Czech! I love listening to this piece in headphones because I can hear breaths (2:30), chairs creaking (3:13) and clothing rustling (1:03, 1:38) along with the rosin of bows. When I work with samples and synthesisers I try to add such things in, to make the music more organic, regardless of whether this will be heard by an audience. I know it’s there and that is enough.

When I played the music for Lavinia to my dramatic partner in crime, she indicated that it completely changed her perception of the scene, that the beauty of the music would strongly juxtapose the grime and dirt of the action and make people “look inside”. I have played the piece on many occasions for people out of context and their initial reaction is a deep sadness, certainly not the feelings I had when I wrote the it, and that return to me when I hear it. However when I explain the scene to the listener, their reaction changes, I watch people shiver. It’s a bit of a favourite trick actually. I don’t often like to play my music for people and be present because I can’t tell what they think of it. I’m much more inclined to hand them a CD. In this case though I like to watch people squirm when I tell them the story!

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