from 'Electra' (by Nick Payne) (2014)

by Kim V Porcelli

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'Electra'
Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Elizabeth Swanson
Assistant directed by Jan Schneider
Designed by Áine O'Hara
Composed and musical-directed by Kim V Porcelli
Produced by the Lir Theatre, August 2014

The score featured seven discrete pieces of music, all of which were performed a cappella by a cast of five adults and two children. Several of the pieces utilised a single drum.

Singers/cast: Danielle Galligan (main soloist), Katie Honan, Úna Kavanagh, Gerard Lee, Robert Thompson, Ava and Ben

About the music:

When Elizabeth, Jan and I first met about the score, Elizabeth said: is it possible to have no tuned instruments on stage at all? Is it possible to be a cappella— I mean, really a cappella? We talked about how this was an almost insurmountable challenge, for singers to find notes out of thin air. But at the time I was singing in the Sacred Harp Singers of Dublin, a (really lovely) singing group that meets weekly to sing several-hundred-year-old four-part-harmony American folk music. In Sacred Harp singing, you tune songs not to a tuner or an instrument, but to your own comfort zone as a group. Typically you have a person, or a handful of people, who are comfortable finding starting pitches for songs, from which every harmony part in the song is reachable. It’s not important in Sacred Harp to be ‘in tune’, A440— it’s only important to be in tune with each other. So this is how we did this.

Danielle’s clear, shining voice was kind of the lynchpin of the writing for me. Once I knew we had at least one person who’d be able to find a pitch without being cued by an instrument, I knew I was free to write whatever.

I wrote the pieces, sang all the harmonies into a loop pedal, made demos of each song in this way, and gave mp3s to the cast. We didn’t use sheets or anything like that— we did it all by ear.

Danielle (who played Electra's sister Chrysothemis) had the incredible job of working to remember what it felt like in her body when she sang this note or that note, so that she’d be able to reproduce the feeling of singing the correct note, in the moment. Because, of course, onstage, during a performance, she couldn’t try this pitch or that— she had to open her mouth and, in one go, the right note had to come out. Not only did she hold the show together in this way, cueing everybody else, but she ended up singing in the exact key I’d composed the pieces in, 99% of the time. Her musical memory is outrageous. --Kim

Photograph: Instagram snapshot (by Kim) of part of the set, designed by Áine O'Hara

credits

released August 1, 2014

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Kim V Porcelli Dublin, Ireland

Composer
cellist
theatre-maker
writer
abstract expressionist

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Track Name: Wide Night
(original text, by Nick Payne):

Wide night,
open air,
before dawn.

She sings the same song,
the same song is sung.
She will not cease,
until she is done.

Only child,
bare breast,
left behind.

She sings the same song,
the same song is sung.
She will not cease,
until she is done.

Wide night,
open air,
bring help.
Track Name: A Heavy Sorrow
(original text by Nick Payne):

If we understand correctly,
your mother knows her fate.

Lacking in wise judgment,
justice predicts her outcome.

Her child is to return
in no short space of time.

A polluted marriage,
an outraged bed.

A heavy sorrow,
fallen asleep,
plunged into the sea.

Confidence in mind,
a dream that
breathes sweetly.

Following fearful nights,
morning is due.

Torment and trouble
depart now from this house.
Track Name: Alone At Sea
(original text by Nick Payne):

Why is it,
when we see a
cloud of starlings,
acting with great
care towards those
that gave them life,
we are unable
to take note?

We're not sure
that the plague
that runs through
this house
can any longer
be labelled
lack of love.

Alone at sea,
daughter
swims toward her father.
Ever grieving,
daughter is pulled under.

Like a nightingale,
reckless,
unafraid of death,
she denounces life.

She lives now,
above her enemies,
drawing strength
from their shame.

She lives now
bathed in tears,
drawing strength
from her fate.