Sunday, 26 February 2017

Matthew Loney's Miracle

This month I've worked hard to finish off an audio-visual project that's been part of my life for the last year. At the festival where it was aired for the first time it won two prizes, and I do like to win prizes, but what actually meant more to me was the number of people who commented on the emotions it inspired. [If you'd like to watch it, click here to see it on Vimeo.]

The idea sprang from a photoshoot that J and I did on the beach at New Smyrna, Florida. I had invented a character called Matthew Loney who had left his home in Kilcloud, County Down, in tragic circumstances and sailed to a new life in America. Matthew, in his Irish linen shirt, black hat and dark trousers is seen walking on a pale, sandy beach with a book in his hand.

There was an appealingly atmospheric quality to the photographs from this shoot, and they made me think that perhaps there was a bigger story here that could be developed.

On his next visit here, the ever-co-operative J gamely dressed in Matthew Loney's full Irish suit for some shots at the Ulster Folk Museum, one of the few places in which walking round in a turn-of-the-century hat and waistcoat looks perfectly normal. And in the same week a quick change in the car by Minerstown Beach led to some nice images with the Mournes in the background. 

With an overall structure in place - a bereavement leading to emigration from Ireland to America - I began to invent details. I added the idea of the ring, first seen on Sophia's finger during the happy start of the story, later thrown down in despair by Matthew on the County Down beach, and finally found again, magically, in Florida. I used a cast silver heart ring that I'd made myself - it's not at all historically accurate, but I liked the fact that it was handmade and my own.

I decided that Sophia would play the harp, drawing attention to her fingers, and hence the ring, and allowing me to use a harp as a key part of the score. 

Daffodils appeared in the teaching charts behind Matthew in his school, giving me the idea that he would pick one as he walked happily home from work, and that this would later be shown, withered and decayed, as Sophia died. 

Sophia's face is never seen, except in the photograph Matthew packs. Her hand is, and it's my own hand here, shot sometimes with a remote and sometimes by a trusty assistant - many thanks to J and to Hope for helping with this.

I used the AV software PicturestoExe to organise my photographs into groups, like scenes in a play: Matthew teaching in his school, Matthew walking home, domestic details and so on.

It took several weeks to compose and record the music. I began by creating little melodic motifs for both Matthew and Sophia. These are settings of their names (D E G F# for Matthew and B A D for Sophia), designed so that the motifs would fit together in harmony when needed - you can hear them together in the "love" scene and in the final beach scene. 

Then I created short complete pieces for both Matthew and Sophia. Matthew's is played at the very start. Sophia's is heard when we first see their house.

For the sadder scenes, I developed the motifs and melodies to incorporate different modes, more dissonant harmonies and altered rhythms, as well as moving into different keys to create a satisfying overall structure.

It took many hours then to sequence the photographs, edit the music to fit, and create transitions appropriate to each scene.

I'm pleased with the final product - but of course I can already see things that I'd like to change.... In some ways I hate messing round again with work that I've thought of as finished, but I think some further editing may help. For instance, it wasn't clear to all the viewers that Sophia had actually died, and since that's a vital part of the narrative, I'll revisit this scene and try to make it more unambiguous.

But then I need to start work on a new project. Some ideas, black and white and a little shadowy, are already spinning round in my mind.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The other side

Yesterday was fantastically beautiful. The sun was low and bright, the clouds started off pretty and ended up dramatic, and birds tumbled across every sky if you waited long enough.  

It's not officially spring yet, but it was the first weekend after Imbolc, or Candlemas, or St Brigid's day, and there was a strong sense of the earth stirring and waking, unfolding ready for the new season.

I drove down the other side of the lough (not the Ards peninsula side, which always seems the correct side.... ;)) and explored some roads I'd never seen before. (Though when I told my parents this, they sighed and said I'd been down them plenty of times as a child, but was always reading a novel in the back of the car and paying no attention to the beautiful scenery  all around.) 

Coming back out of Whiterock after visiting the Petrel, I took the Ballymorran Road to the left and wound my way slowly all the way to Killyleagh, taking what seemed like the most attractive direction at every junction. In Northern Ireland it's often hard to park and take photographs of the views which so often leap out at you. It was a little easier on these tinier roads, where the traffic was light and there were occasional verges on which I could stop.

And the views were stunning. The lovely County Down drumlins were lit to their best advantage, their curves marked by skeletal trees and hedges.

The colours were gorgeous, but as I worked on the photographs today I found myself drawn more to the black and white edits, which show off more clearly the striking geometry of the landscape and the joyful light of the day. I hope you enjoy them too.