Music

The Hildegard Project

O Virgo Ac Diadema, Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179). Cello - Christine Williams. Arrangement, vocals, recorder, production and recording - Racheal Cogan.

This music was written by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) - almost 1,000 years ago. It is from the Symphonia Armoniae Celestium Revelationum, andthese pieces are set to her own text. Hildegard was known to have had visions throughout her life and these formed a significant part of her body of work.

This music is different to read than most common modern notation - the staves here tend to have 4 lines (rather than the 5 we are more accustomed to) and the clefs move around, so you read it more as a linear pattern than actually looking at a note and knowing what it is. I hadn't ever played or sung any of this kind of early vocal liturgical chant, so I began by listening to a lot of versions of this piece (particularly from the album Symphoniae by Sequentia). As I was working through the idiosyncrasies of reading the notation, I didn't feel ready to learn it from the facsimile (as above), and instead chose a version published in James R. Briscoe's Historical Anthology of Music by Women (see below). It's more of a tidied up version with training wheels for reading early liturgical notation that preserves the four lines for a stave and all of those neumes; so I still had a sense of the original notation and ideas of phrasing to inform our interpretation:

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I took my time learning a way around the notes, struggling with the Latin and, because I am me, feeling uncomfortable with the religiosity and lack of, I don't know - humor, and, um, the sheer grandiosity and damn seriousness of the translation of the words. I tend to gravitate towards a more modern sentiment of humility in the grand scheme; Kings and Guilt and Races seem puny compared to the geological epochs that our planet has moved through, dinosaurs and all. (Oh crafty serpent of Eve, where would we have all been without you?) So, big breath - the text:

(Translation from the Latin by Clifford Johnson in the Historical Anthology of Music by Women)

O virgin, as well, the diadem of the crimson royal purple of the king who in your gate like as a breastplate

You, becoming verdant, bloomed through all the changes which Adam brought forth in every race of man.

Hail, hail, from your womb all life proceeded which Adam had stripped from his sons.

Oh flower, you were not to put forth from the dew, neither from the drops of rain, nor from the air which flowed from above, but the divine clarity brought you forth a most noble virgin.

O Virgin, God foresaw your flowering in the first day of his creatures. And from the word he made your golden matter.

O most noble virgin, oh how great it is, in his strength from the side of man God produced the form of woman, which he made a mirror of all to his adornment and an honour to all of his creatures.

For that, the heavenly sounds celebrate and all the earth wonders, O most laudable Mary, whom God has certainly loved.

O how certainly it is to be bewailed and lamented because the sorrow from the guilt through the craftiness of the serpent has flowed in women.

But now, a woman alone whom God has made mother of all, has expelled through her womb the disaster of ignorance and has manifested the full grief of her race.

But, O morning star, from your womb a new sun has exploded, banishing every guilt of Eve and has brought through you a greater blessing because Eve harmed man.

Whence, O Salvatrix, you have brought forward a new human light, gather together the limbs of your son to heavenly harmony.

 

 

 

 

 

My idea was to write an arrangement to perform with my friend cellist Christine Williams. Working out how to notate it so that it didn't diminish the power of the music that has been left to us was challenge enough, I was also reluctant to bind the notes to a strict rhythm, but I had to work out an efficient way for us to learn the piece together. Then, we patiently rehearsed, working our way through the ideas. I'm sure that we both thought it would never work, but slowly the sounds came together and we started playing together as one in what was becoming a cohesive piece of music.

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Just after recording this piece with Christine, I was walking through a big leafy park in the early summer and I started to hear it in my head a little differently: A door creaking open with a gust of wind taking us into another space from a very different time, a wooden floor creaking and a person's footsteps leading us through. I love the idea of creating music spatially, surrounded by fragments of sounds from a particular time and space telling a story. But then, I then had to take a break from all of these ideas for a couple of months to make my own journey moving our home 3,600 kilometers from Calgary to Montreal packing, cleaning, driving, and crazy adventures. Finally after arriving in Montreal, as the cracked ceilings of our small rented apartment were being plastered and painted, I spent some time working through these additional ideas at the same time as unpacking, repairing, and cleaning up bits of plaster and flaky paint whilst moving furniture out of the way and back again. This is what I came up with for now. Put on some decent headphones and enjoy!


 Thank you Christine for the time you spent with me working on this music, your beautiful playing, friendship and support; I already miss you.

Thank you Geri and Susanna for your comments and for listening!

dreamscape

Dreamscape (Racheal Cogan 2015)

Recorders (tenor, contrabass), voices and other sounds.

Recorders designed and made by Geri Bollinger.

Thank you Andrew, Geri, and Violaine for listening and being there.

This  soundscape is set in a dreamlike environment and the result of one of my favorite writing styles. The music developed from a very simple start experimenting with the looper on Ableton Live and adding to these sounds to create a structure that supported the music. At the start it was a very organic way of creating and layering that felt less like work and more like an opening of the self to a dreaming -  an inward looking form of creation that allows me to channel creativity rather than try to control it.

Nearer to completion, the music became crowded and lost its essence;  I spent days trying to pull it apart and re-work it - and everything just seemed to make it worse - less cohesive, muddy in both sound and texture, and just plain ... lost. Eventually I sat with it quietly, erased even more, teased some more space into it so it could breathe again, and this time, I think I have it. Whatever it was meant to be is, and it is time to let it go and move on.

I kept a very open and minimal musical landscape (drenched in various delays and reverbs), with sparse and simple melodic lines to tie the whole together and give the mind something to sing with and rest with whilst listening to the music and the spaces in-between.

The percussion sounds are from the recorder. When you strike the holes/keys with the pads of your fingers it's a very cool percussive sound - but it's quite soft; in the recording environment it can be made loud and awesome. The bass-like sounds are also recorder percussion from a deep contrabass - pretty cool! These watery percussion sounds move seamlessly out of the real water sounds that surround us a few times in this piece. The metaphor of the water is cleansing the memory of the dream that went before.

Several ideas are threaded throughout this piece:

When I go for long drives by myself I often pass the time with my version of overtone singing - it keeps me awake and alert, at the same time being meditative (especially after an hour or so) and calming.  I had been doing some long driving whilst working on the music and the sound was very present - so I tried using some of that. Whilst working the overtone singing through the piece, it struck me that some airy whistling sounds would bring a nice high frequency wash - so I spent some time softly whistling into a microphone to find the 'right' sound I had imagined. Some of it sounds like it is between radio frequencies, other parts like wind over sand. From the desert to the ocean and tuning the dream to move between channels.

A sound that is woven through Dreamscape represents engines turning on at spaced intervals keeping a ship in space on the correct path (informed by the copious amounts of sci-fi literature I have consumed). It's a metaphor for the part of the dreaming that keeps us on the path through all of the divergent twists and turns that our lives take, reminding us that we are traveling in the cocoon of our vehicle, be it our own bodies or the earth itself.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta

The next piece I'm currently working on is an arrangement of a song by Purcell for four/five recorders and voice - quite a different adventure to this one. Stay tuned!

Swirling Leaves

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Swirling Leaves (Racheal Cogan 2015)

Geri Bollinger: Contrabass Recorder

Racheal Cogan: Tenor Recorders  and  Bass Recorder

Mixing: Racheal Cogan

All recorders made by Geri Bollinger

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The instrument all pulled apart - including optional mouthpiece.
The instrument all pulled apart - including optional mouthpiece.

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I wrote this piece to celebrate a tenor recorder that Geri Bollinger had very generously given to me. It is a beautiful instrument (you can see it in the pictures) with a unique headpiece. The headpiece is in two parts. When the parts are together, it can be played like a fairly traditional style recorder. When the top alone is used, with small adjustments of the mouth and face, you can have control of pitch, dynamics, and the timbre of the instrument. The timbral spectrum is awesome - all the way from a super breathy sound to the more pure tones of a typical recorder. When you listen to this piece you will be able to hear the breathy tones exploited in what I call the more Carnivale like sections in the music. For me, this quartet has the feel of walking through rustling autumn leaves in a broken down Carnival site whilst the wind noisily shakes out the trees.

Awesome Contrabass Recorder
Awesome Contrabass Recorder

Many thanks go to Geri for playing the Contrabass in this recording and for his invaluable advice and suggestions.

Swirling Leaves is written for two Tenor Recorders, Bass Recorder and Contrabass Recorder.

Geri's website is here:

www.geri-bollinger.ch

Sughisti

Sughisti (Racheal Cogan 2014)

Geri Bollinger - Greatbass and Contrabass Recorders (instruments also designed and made by Geri Bollinger)

Racheal Cogan - EAGLE Alto Recorder (designed and made by Adriana Breukink and Geri Bollinger) and Küng Bass Recorder (designed and made by Geri Bollinger).

Mixing - Racheal Cogan

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Sughisti is a gift for a new friend, Geri Bollinger. Geri came across my website with a photo of me holding one of his lovely Küng bass recorders, heard my music and sent me an email out of the blue, thus beginning a friendship of music, recorders, and recording.

We started writing to each other over a summer that saw both of us, one in Canada and the other in Switzerland, cooking up and bottling tomato sauces from the abundant summer harvests. That year I bought boxes and boxes of tomatoes and bottled them plain, as ketchup, as pasta sauce, and dehydrated a large batch as well: all to ferret away for the long, insistently cold and icy Winter in Alberta.

Geri called his bottled tomato sauce Sugo. Sughisti are sauce makers. This piece is titled for the background food of all the music and instruments that we were both making and writing to each other about. The recording itself was made from across the two sides of the earth. Geri plays the Contrabass in F and a Greatbass, he built and designed both of them. I play the Alto Eagle recorder that he and Adriana Breukink designed and make, and the Küng Bass Recorder that Geri also designed and built. I had both recorders before I met him, so perhaps we were already on the way to working together before we realised it. The instruments that Geri makes are simply awesome.

Geri made a lot of great suggestions for this piece – it wouldn’t have been the same without his input. He says that I compose, he builds instruments, and we both cook with sounds making Sugo for the ears! We both enjoy good homemade sauces and very cool homemade sounds. We hope that you like our music too!

Geri's instruments, Adriana's instruments, and so many more that I haven't yet tried are re-defining what it means to be a recorder player. Flexibility of tone, larger registers, ease of playing notes, evenness of tone throughout the register, louder possibilities, more control over dynamics, and a range of unique timbres from each incredible design is opening so many creative possibilities for those of us that play the recorder.  There is now even more beauty for the possibilities of the music that we can create with them.


Geri's awesome instruments are here: geri-bollinger.ch

The bold and beautiful Eagle recorders here: eagle-recorder.com

Adriana's Instruments are here: adrianabreukink.com

Küng instruments here: kueng-blockfloeten.ch

The score of Sughisti is published by Edition Tre Fontane.

Geri made a video of this music: