Improvisation, with trombone

Making sounds and poems in answer to Wordsworth. Sound artist Sophie Cooper writes about a day of taking her trombone around the Ravens workshops at Invisible (Manchester) and Back on Track.

This afternoon at Back on Track, Matt and I led the group in a music and creative writing session, I was curious to see how the already enthusiastic group would respond to understanding and utilising notions of graphic scoring. In music theory terms, how can dynamics, speed, length of sounds and other ideas add colour and value to text, and ultimately the music writing process?

We started with an improvisational game for solo trombone. I asked the group to make decisions about what they could ask a trombone player to perform to create a short piece on the spot. Instead of getting out a music stave and spending years learning traditional music theory, how can you articulate musical ideas in form and shape? We started with the basics: loud or soft? A high pitch or a low pitch? The participants quickly got the idea and we were making short miniatures of improvisation. Their minds started to ask other questions: ok, well if you can do that can you try this?! One person asked me to try to make a sound with the trombone by sucking in air through the instrument rather than the other correct way. Interesting. 

Matt went on to discuss the Lyrical Ballads and gave each person a line from “The Last of the Flock” then asked them to respond to that line with a new one. Put together it was hard to work out if it was a Wordsworth or a Back on Track member produced piece! We worked into these lines further, how do these words sound, how can we apply the ideas explored about shape and form here to present an image, an instruction, a graphic score. Matt and I tried out some of the new works on trombone, voice and percussion. Is this song writing? Probably not, but these ideas are spring boards for conversations, textures of sounds rather than straight up notes. An exciting way to be personally expressive and the start of something bigger. 

Sophie Cooper. Sound Artist. Back on Track, March 2022

Refuge from the Ravens is supported by the Heritage Fund. In 1798, Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge sparked a literary revolution — poems in everyday language, telling of people on the margins of society. 200 years later, homelessness and social inequality are still with us and even on the rise. This project invited people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people to meet Wordsworth across time, replying in poetry, art and song in a Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century.