Reflecting on the Creative Process
Connor Cook’s approach to Blood & Breath:
For 'my' section of Blood & Breath, I ‘got by with a little help from my friends’, so to speak. I was entering a bit of a rut creatively as the autumn began to cave in to winter, and was painfully aware of it; I thought it could be a nice shake-up to make an attempt at crafting a bridge from the beautiful opening that Michael had devised and attempting to build on it from there. We discussed a combustive ‘snap’ being an important element in it, something that represented the snap out of the daze that we all personally experienced in the early days of the pandemic.
Michael had made the exploratory, swirling soundscape that contained a vocal round, and he’d talked about the fact that it was meant to represent humanity’s efforts to create some sort of order in the vast and chaotic universe surrounding us. I decided to run with the idea of somehow portraying a sense of tunnel-vision in what I was working on, a compositional analog of the daily tunnel-vision of our intimate daily experiences. We became hyper-attuned to these as the “big-world” order outside of those routines was transformed in ways we couldn’t quite understand. The tonality to which we’d become acclimatized through the round represented the foundation of the past that we’d all now departed from, and the tonal shift in my part would symbolize a new reality, as yet incomprehensible to our species. While I felt that I needed to warp the tonality somehow, I didn’t know how to take Michael’s vocals and translate them into my own tonal terms. So I time-stretched some of the vocal stems into long ‘tunnels’ of voice-based tones, and began layering them and pitch-shifting them freely, building in timbral adjustments through some of my favourite mixing tools to further emphasize the scope of the change. This was supposed to be a metaphor for the realization that the ground of things had irrevocably shifted, but it was also constructed in such a way that most listeners would probably be unaware just how that shift had occurred (not just yet, in any case). The scope of the change was still a mystery, even though our tunnel-vision life had very obviously been transformed.
Next, I had to build up the ‘snap’ element somehow, and was having trouble figuring out what to do. I ended up recording myself whacking on a candle with a drumstick to get some percussive impact material as well as the reverb imprint of my room-space. Time-compressing longer compositions that Charles and Alana had worked on in the summertime into handfuls of seconds allowed me to play with something tense and difficult to fully comprehend, while increasing potential resonance with other works of ours. When it came to the climactic moment, I deliberately offset the ‘snap’ and the resumption of the chordal tonality in an unsatisfying way, to represent this sort of ‘moment of understanding’ not quite being adequate – the listener’s bigger picture is never going to be big enough or satisfying enough to actually comprehend the immensity of the scope of what we were dealing with.
What happens next is a shifting of the sonic tunnel-effect towards a kind of angrier momentum, as layers and layers of the treated time-stretched vocals are built into harsher and wider timbre-spaces with arcing pitch trajectories, narratively representing to me the moment when the struggle to comprehend yields to a claustrophobic frustration – the paradoxical surrender to, and rebellion against, the new ‘tunnel.’ This was where the section ended and where Charles was invited to add onto it, and he did a great job taking the journey by the reins and bringing back some prior material in fresh ways.
That ‘help from my friends’ element really came in there, with Charlie’s and Malte’s additions rendering that bridge section of mine worth it, in my opinion, as Michael’s did before it. He provided the scaffolding upon which the rest of us draped our works. Furthermore, later in the compositional process, Michael helped clarify the tension and scope of my section by adding some swishing noise-like material during the tunnel buildup, which I think does a better job of taking what I was going for and lending it some more intrigue.
The magic of a creative collective, and this one in particular, is that I suffered from quite a few moments of doubt that my creative companions generously helped me through. Without their magical encouragement and feedback, and without the creative fallback within our group, it would have been a much more difficult year and winter especially.
Connor Cook, Montreal, June 3, 2021