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It was a tough day yesterday.  I am certainly pretty worn out after the touring and playing of the past two months or so, and still, of course, spending plenty of time on the pieces I need to get done, while the background whirr and hum of emails and work continues from day to day.  I do have my annual break coming up, however, to coincide with the August lull of the freelance musician, and have to say that it will probably be the best kind of holiday, a much needed one.

My other half, significantly wiser than me in most things but certainly when it comes to me as a person, steered me in the afternoon towards one of my favourite hobbies, so out came the board games.  This is one of those pastimes which sometimes takes a gentle nudge to get going, but is always, always worth it in the end for the lightening of mood, the fun, the conversation and, of course, the cut and thrust of the chase followed, in my case, by inevitable defeat.  We played out one of the expansion scenarios from The Seafarers Of Catan (I lost), a quick game of Backpacker (I lost) and then finished off the evening with London (I…well, you can guess).

In another life I might have been something else, and there are plenty of professions out there I might have given a go, had the pull of music not been all-encompassing.  Most of those professions would have shared some traits with what I do now, however, the joy of being one’s own boss, the creative element and so on.  I have huge admiration for the designers of the best of these games, and have to admit that London is one of the finest of them.

Its designer, Martin Wallace, has a mighty reputation, and I can easily see why.  London traces the development of the city from the Great Fire of 1666, giving the players a simple set of options (draw a card, take an action) which lead to all sorts of intricacies and complications, with plenty of lovely moments, especially delightful if you happen to live in the city.  Yesterday, for example, came a really fine moment when street lights appeared in my city for the first time and, by the end, the Underground had arrived in my boroughs, although I still went down to a crushing defeat, not helped by the fact that my city was not large enough for my populous.  Too much poverty, you see.

The city takes shape in Martin Wallace’s superb London.

London is a great example of how a genuinely economical set of decisions can turn out something with real depth and scope, but which is fundamentally structured, thanks to the simplicity of those same decisions.  I hope I am not forcing the link when I say that similar things can take place in music, and often simple choices made at the beginning of a process can lead to wonderfully complex structures later on.

One of the recent developments in my writing has been to explore my basic material in much more depth than previously, revisiting and recasting it in order to discover all sorts of strange permutations, whether rhythmic, melodic or harmonic.  These explorations have the rich benefit of providing “new” material which is really, albeit distantly, derived from the original, therefore providing diversity in unity.  They also steer me away from the curse of the nascent composer, which is to attempt to write a stream of new material, when the trick is to work with what you have.

Part of the process of revision of the sketches of my string piece has been to attempt to rein in the ideas and to strike that balance between repetition and novelty which keeps the narrative of music alive.  Today it is time to move on to the third movement, and then I shall be able to step back and see the piece as a whole for the first time, like a completed city viewed from the air or even the top of a game board.

 

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