Pawnography

Written by Sorana Santos on Tuesday the 10th of August 2010
Earlier this year when I was first sent the script forPawnography I couldn't possibly imagine writing songs about 'Love' for a play about 'Love' and genuinely had no idea how or why writer/director Tracy Keeling had even thought of me when finding a composer/songwriter to write for the piece. I was challenged to write a song about 'Love' about two years ago, having been long-known to have kicked the subject of 'Love' to the kerb many many moons ago for being over-used and ill-expressed by too many. Naturally, I wanted to leave this subject matter well alone. 
Little did I know that a few pages into reading the play for the first time I would be so touched and inspired by what I read that I would become increasingly open to the possibility. Pawnography not only made me re-visit ideas, feelings and imagery that I had long chosen to forget about, but it is also an intellectual Tour de Force, a perfect union of head and heart that had me captivated from the very beginning. It must be said: I'm not sure how Keeling is not yet a household name; her dark, witty, sincere, intelligent writing is captivating and there's not a word or line out of place. I would have been a fool to turn the work down, so we met up to discuss concepts and ideas.
Just like its title, Pawnography, the play is about the manipulation of love and as such it is not really a play about love, it is, in a sense, a play about the fabrication of love, about re-telling the story the wrong way and as such, it is more about the death of love - which meant Keeling and I were in business. 
The first things I usually consider when I am commissioned is how 'far' to take things harmonically, rhythmically, structurally, etc. and the balance of these in relation to the technical requirements of the commissioner, any stylistic nuances currently pertaining to them, personal preferences and, unfortunately, the fact that most audiences are best acquainted with highly commercial 'music'. Outside of the Lyrebird domain, most of my material is slightly out of the mainstream range so in parallel to Keeling's play on the ideals of love, I sought to 'play' with a few elements typical in mainstream material, namely, meter and phrase lengths. Writing songs purely in '4', as many do (compound, if you're lucky), can feel a little restrictive at the best of times and I gladly take the breaks from it where I can.
When we met, Keeling and I talked about the 'roots' of the language of the play and the juxtaposition of their being lifted, in part, directly from both Shakespeare and the Marquis de Sade and Keeling's own original verse and prose. Similarly, I sought to parallel the songs 'roots' by basing the melodic lines on those found in Celtic folk music, and, unfortunately for me, choosing to prepare a piano (which can be made to sound cimbalo-esque) and use the shruti as my instruments of choice - both of which are difficult to tune to vocally since they are not entirely in tune themselves, but let's not get onto the notion of Tuning Systems in this post.  
Lyrically, A Light's Light is entirely comprised of text lifted directly from the play itself. The second song in the production, Song for a Wedding/Funeral was a collaboration between Keeling and myself where we each produced alternate lines and sections. The lyrics forAt Death's Door were written by me alone. The idea behind this construction was to represent the juxtaposition of both the original and unoriginal text in Pawnography whilst simultaneously further recycling material that Keeling had already re-arranged.
There are many other aspects of this work that I could detail here but for fear of making this post too steeped in technique. I also suppose that the musicians who wish to know about it will either analyse the music themselves or just ask me outright how I arrived at the points I did.
For the common mortal, I did write from the heart as well, very much so. What I came to realise was that a lot of the perspectives in which 'Love' has been written about often, for me, lacks genuine insight into the songwriter's character and their way of viewing the subject. I also realised that at least some of the time, the use of language that favoured a weak string of cliché's and cliché'd phrases aimed at generating the interest of the Record Industry is what partly put me off the idea of exploring the subject myself, like I would somehow become one of 'them' if I did so.
It's rare that you get to work on projects you truly enjoy; it's even rarer to work on something that changes part of you as a songwriter/lyricist. Working on Pawnographyhas been both of those things and I have somehow ended up with a fresh perspective on my work, which I never expected could, or would, ever happen with regards to this subgects; we sometimes resist the things we most need.
For those of you that wish to see the play, and I strongly recommend you do, it is currently on at The Rose Theatre, Southwark and will continue to run through the whole of August on the following dates: 10,11,12,20,22,25,27 (at 7.30 pm except Sunday 22nd at 3.00 pm) and costs £10, £8 concessions. For those of you who do not get to see it, there is salvation in the form of the recordings which we will be releasing sometime in September. 
"This love is rough, it pricks like a thorn. But play we must... we are bound to be torn and torn we will be...”
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