Daniel Elms: Creating 100 Demons - Part III

Daniel Elms, 6 Mar 2018, Daniel Elms

100 Demons required a harmonic language that was contemporary, yet representative of its ancient influences. The composition used Japanese folklore to create a stylised, introspective look at present-day society and the blurred line of distinction between contemporary myth and reality, so it was important that the harmonic language was analogous to this theme; the language had to strengthen the message of my work and present music culture as a space that was no longer safe; a space demonised by the fears and myths of societal construction.

Both the live and pre-recorded harmonic content of 100 Demons was derived from traditional Japanese musical scales: Insen, Iwato and Ritsu. These scales were tuned to Western pitch and modulated to allow the sympathetic resonance of the string quartet to be used to its full effect. They were then partitioned and arranged vertically into diads and triads (groups of two and three) before being extrapolated by various processes — methods and formulas by which to manipulate musical intervals into unique constructs, musical languages and harmonies.

Once these processes had been complete, the resulting harmonic language was one that varied from tranquil consonance to expressive and piercing dissonance. Added to this, in the tape element of the composition, each of the harmonic content’s variations had a distinct timbral quality to help provide definition: opening with a warm and hazy sul tasto, through piercing sul ponticello, to tremolos with a forte accent that gradually softened and decayed. The tape was then heavily processed, torn apart and distorted, and the sounds of Manchester Collective were interspersed with extracts of haunting monologues, taken from the socio-political landscape that surrounds us all.

I always find that it is one thing to create the pre-composition of a new work and another thing entirely to use those creations in musical and intuitive ways. Often, sticking to a formula rigidly is — in my mind — counterintuitive to the art and act of composition. It took me many months of working with the harmony, the recorded material, the folkloric and theatrical influences before I was at a stage where I could use the pre-composition in a natural way and achieve a state of creative “flow”. But it was the enthusiasm and passion of Manchester Collective, a bold ensemble, unafraid to explore the distinction between music and other mediums, who breathed life into the notes on the page and the ideology that underpinned them.