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Jenni Roditi
from: Jenni Roditi
Category: Composition

'Whole Brain' Performance & Composition


I think it is important to study the relationship between left and right brain integration in the creative process. My interest musically is to compose and also to perform ‘whole brain’ music. I see this as a filter through which I can also examine the music of others generally. Left-brain activity adheres to logical procedures, right-brain activity adheres to intuitive leaps and imaginative use of ideas. I look at this as the relationship between “Invention” (left) and “Intention” (right): Integration being the ultimate positive outcome.

The role of improvisation at the piano and with the voice can influence the energetic and imaginative impulse for starting a new piece. The compositional development of material can consolidate and verify material in a thoroughly worked through and detailed way. It is also important to examine how the compositional process itself can sway from left to right hemisphere awareness during the creative process. Developing awareness of how to be gently conscious of this process is important, to enhance the potential for a whole brain musical expression.

One of my current interests is rooted in the evolution of the composer/performer aspect of my work and the potential applications of this axis extending out to working with other musicians. For example: I recently collaborated with a folk violinist, a cross-over cellist and a classical clarinettist. I wrote a piano and vocal part for myself and this formed the basis for the other musicians to create their own parts in collaboration with me. I am interested in expanding and developing this and may have an opportunity next year to set this up as part of a project at The Sage Gateshead, where I have been invited to be an in-house artist particularly because I am a composer/improviser/performer and workshop leader – rather than a straight composer.

Another one of my interests is my special attention to and development of the voice, both as a composer, performer and a facilitator. (I work as an Integral Voice coach). Voice work has contributed to my composing enormously over the years. I am a natural singer and songwriter so the use of voice has become a major compositional tool and has resulted in the composition of three operas, a large choral piece, countless songs and extended songs. I see more potential here to develop. The last song I wrote seems to me to point towards a whole new expressive paradigm. The role of my voice is becoming more forthright in its ability to fly and to duck and dive – ranging from full body open throat calling to detailed ornamental phrases and a wide variety of non-classical timbral brushstrokes and patterns.

I have always been interested in indigenous music especially from India, Bali, and Spain. I have had opportunities to explore the vocal traditions of North Indian Khyal singing, Balinese Temple singing and Flamenco singing. All these influences continue to appear in my own singing. I sense that a singing ‘style’ is really beginning to emerge now and that I could make an interesting and unusual contribution as a composer/performer. I feel I am ready now to fully embody these, so far exploratory, influences into a more defined language of my own.

In terms of my compositional language itself this has been rooted in a more tonal than atonal world for the last 21 years. Prior to that I was working with atonality in a more outright way, for example in two orchestral works. I hear my ‘tonal’ language as calling on familiar chords, but very rarely using functional harmony. You can find chord sequences in my music in which you will recognize many of the individual chords as part of an older tradition, but you will not be familiar with the sequence in which I place many of the chords. Building deeper chords, not identifiable as part of an older tradition, but colour or mode based, has also always been part of my palette. Rhythmically I do not work out any kind of system but use my own innate sense of body rhythm, both lyrically and in terms of punctuation. I feel this is characterized by certain fingerprints you will find in my style – for example an emphasis more on down beat than up beat. Polyrhythm and shifting meters are familiar to me.

Where do I want to go compositionally next? How much emphasis do I want to place on pure composition (for others) and how much emphasis do I want to place on composer/performer work (solo, and with others). There doesn’t have to be an answer to this necessarily but this question could find its own wholeness. 

Something interesting that has also come up very recently is the role of presence and being in the composing process. (I am already aware of this in the performing process.) I say recently, but in fact it has always been there, but I have not brought awareness to it until recently. To allow myself to say that presence and being are probably the most important tools in my composing tool kit seems like a relief, and a revolution, all at the same time. This is an area that is hard to analyse as a technique, and yet to me, as someone who practices meditation, I cannot now underestimate the importance of this aspect of my work. One of the prime factors at work here is listening. No musician can deny the importance of this. But what is listening? Where do we listen from?

Music Theatre/Opera has been an important part of my work. This cross-art space, where theatre and music co-exist, sits easily within my artistic remit. Having been an enthusiastic actress in early years and having worked in contemporary music-theatre/opera since 1985 I will always be excited by this world. Last year my second opera Inanna was billed to open the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola theatre, for example. The scope of ‘opera’ activates a certain natural whole brain response because the human story in the theatre and the abstract language in the music galvanize a deep coming together of different parts of my experience. I am currently rewriting my third opera Siddhartha. As I move through the score revisiting the harmony and the orchestration, the story telling and the choral commentary, the imagery and the emotional content I am aware that I seem to have little difficulty in painting on such an epic canvas. This is something that I build up in small stages but which amounts to something with substantial impact.

Characteristic of my operas is the writing for voices across different vocal genres. Folk, jazz, free, musical-theatre as well as operatic – these vocal worlds brush against each other and musical sparks fly. I have always wanted to work on a devised Music/Theatre piece. Up to now I have worked to commission and the whole of the material has been provided by myself and a librettist. Working alongside a group of open-minded singers (and musicians too?) to devise a piece of Music/Theatre would be a natural development. I would hope to be able to direct a process of this nature. Again this is something that may be open to me as a project at The Sage Gateshead in the coming two years or so.

Jenni is on Facebook.

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