Sid Smith’s String Quartets

Sid Smith String Quartet viiiThe new year brings a new musical challenge, this time in the form of a string quartet inspired by a series of rainy windows. Music writer Sid Smith has been taking photographs of the patterns rain makes on his office windows for a few years and has now set up the results as programme of graphic music scores. There are twenty ‘string quartets’ in the project, each incorporating four photographs. In total, 33 different musicians have signed up to record music based on these scores, which will be gathered together at Sid’s blog.

I will be writing and recording the four movements of ‘String Quartet viii’ from this project and have just completed the first of these. Despite the title, there is no requirement to use a classic string quartet arrangement, so my first piece (and possibly the others, too) uses a more folky set of instruments, albeit still all stringed. The piece is structured around a simple backing of electric bass and acoustic guitar, with a dark melody reflecting the lines on the photograph played on bouzouki. In the more detailed centre of the piece, additional texture comes from the mandolin.

This was a great opportunity to write for some of my newest instruments and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to grips with the bouzouki in particular. It is a Greek (rather than Irish) model, so is tuned a tone lower than the top four strings of a guitar. This makes chord patterns easy to work out, though when accompanying the guitar and bass, it means playing in what feels like a different key. In some ways this is awkward, but on the other hand it forces me out of playing what might work on guitar. The pairs of strings also result in a substantially different playing experience, not just in the sound produced, but in the action of moving around the fretboard. When it comes to playing the mandolin, the tuning is completely different, so there is no safe ground to fall back on there, either.

Here is the resulting piece: