The Summer Days spent at Fell End Nature Reserve have been simply stunning! Only opened 10 months earlier after extensive excavation of new ponds, lakes and dykes, to my utter surprise and delight, the surface air above the limpid lakes was filled with glistening and aerobatic dragon and damselflies.
I began to study the aerial pathways of these kaleidoscopic creatures- quick flashes and glints of racing stick-like ‘arrows’ of blues, greens, bronzes and reds. The wings look like fine rice-paper when the insect is still. You get and impression (at times when they ARE still), that they are brooding their next moves and waiting opportunistically for the next hapless victim to fly into the insect’s ‘radar’.
It was possible to make field drawings not only of a briefly resting insect, but also to lie in the grass at the edges of the pools and to draw the lines-of flight- sometimes layering one trajectory and course over another. Such flight-notations began to look like Renaissance counterpoint. I’ve noticed this many times, but when your eye fixes on a small moving object, the background colours in front of which it flashes produce a delicious dissolved coloured geometry. Such effects found their way into the field drawings too.
And then there were the SOUNDS of the insects. Harsh whispers like soprano gueros; soprano clatters of orchestral rattles and even odd tremolos like paper rattling inside a tube with air pushing it along.
At times like these, where the imagination lies dormant in the presence of incredibly dynamic nature, the RECORDING of the rapid passage of events robs me of a sense of self. All of my senses are primed and connected. That’s why my drawings towards music are so lateral and not just literal. I don’t think time spent studying dragonflies is that much distant from studying the passage and behaviour of atoms and sub-atomic particles! At any rate, it didn’t take long for me to realise that fixing my attention on ONE dragonfly was going to give me the equivalent of a single musical THEME.
Each flight- each disturbance of an already vibrating air was yet another variation of a form moving through time and space.
This is how ‘Dragonfly Variations’ was born and instigated. The clarinet (I love the instrument more and more the more I write for it) IS the dragonfly and the piano is the habitat through which the dragonfly passes. At one point in the piece, the clarinettist moves to direct the bell of the clarinet directly into and over the strings of the piano! The dampers are lifted by the pedal and the consequent burst of double-reed sound are taken-up by the sympathetically vibrating strings of the piano. The horizontal configuration of all those taught and tense strings is like the stretched and sensate surface of a lake. The sounds of the clarinet skid, skate, bounce and vibrate the accompanying piano in an act of collaborative interaction and sonic cohesion.