Phil Bancroft & Dolphin Boy - 4 Notes

Phil Bancroft & Dolphin Boy - 4 Notes

The spark for the 4 Notes Re-Mix project was ignited a few years ago when The Martyn Bennett Trust held a series of events to celebrate Martyn’s legacy. This involved a series of intensive music workshops with young people led by some of Scotland’s most creative musicians and dancers followed by a diverse and dynamic concert in the Queen’s Hall, all inspired by Martyn’s vision of music. Alongside this, the Trust also commissioned 4 new pieces of music to be performed at that concert. One of these was the inventive and compelling ‘4 Notes Remix’ by Phil and Andy (Dolphin Boy).¬† This same piece was further developed and performed again at Celtic Connections. This piece includes Martyn’s voice, telling of a particularly difficult experience, but we also hear Martyn talking about the richness and power of our traditional music and how well it compares with the music that surrounds us in this ‘throwaway culture’. Martyn tells us how his music is rooted in tradition and how he wants to ‘keep it going’. The track starts with a lament on the pipes and then, as Phil explains, moves through a series of variations inspired by Martyn’s original ‘4 Notes’ from the album Bothy Culture. In the track Phil and Andy poignantly capture something of Martyn’s vibrant outlook and his rootedness in the traditional cultures of Scotland.

Phil and Andy were asked by the Trust to record the remix through an educational engagement with students at the City of Edinburgh Music School, where Martyn had studied himself. The students were involved in re-creating samples to be used in the track and in observing the process from start to finish, from composition, studio recording of the various and many instruments, and in the technical aspects of mixing the track with Mattie Foulds at the controls. Students also made a short film of the process.

Part of Martyn’s original conception for 4 Notes stems from a conversation he had with Martin Swan, in which Martin encouraged him to compose a piece using only 4 notes. This piece, played along with ‘Ud the Dudouk’ became one of Martyn’s most epic live sets with Cuillin, with frequent changes of instruments.

For the recording of the 4 Notes Remix, Phil and Andy are joined by Martin Swan and Deirdre Morrison on strings, David Milligan on piano, Fraser Fifield on pipes and whistles, and Kevin MacKenzie on guitar.

The Martyn Bennett Trust

4 Notes revisited by Phil Bancroft and Dolphin Boy

Phil and Andy were asked by the Trust to record the remix through an educational engagement with students at the City of Edinburgh Music School, where Martyn had studied himself. The students were involved in re-creating samples to be used in the track and in observing the process from start to finish, from composition, studio recording of the various and many instruments, and in the technical aspects of mixing the track with Mattie Foulds at the controls. Students also made a short film of the process.

Phil Bancroft

"This piece reflects a journey through different ideas, resulting in a sort of reworking of the piece ‘4-Notes’ from Bothy Culture. The starting point came from a collision of three things in my head:

  • 1. Making a melody from just 4 pitches,
  • 2. Martyn destroying his instruments in a fit of rage, &
  • 3. The story at the end of Grit. 

In retrospect, they collided while thinking about loss, about Martyn’s death, and my inability to make sense of it. I am interested in supporting creativity and increasing clarity by restricting choice in various ways. I think this is important, and explore it a lot in educational work with children, as well as in my own composition and improvisation practice. So the idea of restricting the number of pitches from which you choose to build a melody or theme, is a familiar & powerful idea to me.

It is very powerful, in the BBC Scotland ‘Artworks’ documentary, to hear Martyn’s gentle voice describe the moment he came round from a fit of rage to find his instruments smashed up.

Dolphin BoyI was also very moved and horrified by the last piece on Grit, ‘Storyteller’ which features a story about a widowed King’s daughter, a young mother, betrayed by her step-mother over a broken milk-pitcher. She has her arms then legs and breasts chopped off by her angry father. It is a brutal story again told in a gentle voice, and the music and then the story seems to run out before it is finished - you never find out what happens in the end. I couldn’t help relating this story to what Martyn lost; the loss of his relationship with playing music with his own hands, and the destruction of his instruments by his own hands. And I guess the idea of losing your 4 limbs one by one resonated with 4 pitches , 3 pitches, 2 then 1 pitch, then I guess no pitches - no sound, no music??

So, first, the idea was to write a piece of music, with a melody using 4 pitches, then 3 pitches then two then ending with something restricted to 1 pitch.

When I started collaborating with Dolphin Boy, he brought the recording of an interview that Martyn gave, where he talks with boundless positivity, confidence and pride about the relationship between contemporary media, and music and Art created in traditional cultures, or tribal cultures as he puts it. About how fantastic things rooted in tribal cultures are, in our throwaway culture, but the need to combine, fuse, hybridise, & evolve. About keeping the tradition going by dressing it up in ways so that it was covered in the modern media, and about how surprised and delighted he was to find out that what he was doing had inspired young musicians, how it helped make the whole thing grow. This concert is part of that, this collaboration with Dolphin Boy is part of that, and this piece is part of that. As a result, we changed things round to be more of a celebration, moving forward, so we started with a section based on rhythms played on single pitches- which has a restricted sound, before the music expands, through 2-3 pitches, to develop a restatement of the piece ‘4 Notes’, before ending in a piece of trance music. I worked on some melodic ideas using 1, 2 and 4 pitches, then Dolphin Boy, bounced off them to produce three grooves- which were then knitted into the final piece- using samples of Martyn talking- presented as a mix of live performance and improvisation played to a backing track- as much of Martyn’s live work had been."

ADDITIONAL NOTES

After we played the piece for a second time, at Celtic Connections, I was speaking to Kirsten, Martyn’s wife. She had been unable to listen to the piece at it’s first performance, because the use of Martyn’s voice in samples was too upsetting. She said she really enjoyed the piece, but that the story of Martyn going into a dream-like state and ‘waking up’ having smashed his instruments in a rage was a more poetic version of what actually happening. Apparently, Martyn’s¬†creative abilities were not solely confined to the musical realm!!

We recorded the piece, after being approached by Chris and BJ from the MBT, through 2011-12. It was a great experience, I think for both Dolphin Boy and myself, revisiting the piece with all the musicians - some of whom had very close working relationships with Martyn, particularly Deirdre Morrison and Martin Swan. We recorded most of the music at the studio at Broughton High School Music unit, where Martyn was a pupil. It was a chance to meet some of the great students there, and they observed much of the process. I hope that being part of this was useful for them, and helped them to understand more about Martyn’s legacy.

A couple of moments stick in the memory.

Our great piper and whistle player, Fraser Fifield, couldn’t make the session at Broughton, so we recorded his parts at his home studio. When it came to record the highland pipes part for the first section it emerged that I had transposed them incorrectly (I haven’t written much for pipes) and the melody line I had initially wanted wasn’t actually possible to play on the pipes - D’Oh. So Fraser found a compromise using the notes he did have available, and found this beautiful reworking of the original idea - and better! It goes to show that in the creative process, mistakes can often lead to unexpected riches!

When we were mixing the track, we were looking for a way to make the small pipes sit better in the mix. Our lovely engineer, Mattie Foulds suggested using a ring modulator plug-in, which feedbacks sound into itself to create a sort of standing wave in sound. When we played the track on the setting Mattie initially chose, the pipes set up this extraordinary standing wave of sound, totally otherworldly and beautiful, and I really felt as if Martyn’s spirit was present. We kept a bit of that sound in the mix, but it would have needed a completely different version to properly present that sound in the piece.

I think for both Dolphin Boy and me, the process allowed us to really present the composition properly, and we are very proud of what has emerged. We hope you enjoy it.

Phil Bancroft

Andy Levy [aka Dolphin Boy]

Dolphin BoyI first met Martyn Bennett when he asked me to be his tour as a DJ on The Glenlivet Distillery of Sound Tour in 1999. I'd heard a lot of things about Martyn, and they all turned out to be true. Martyn was enigmatic, a maverick. The beautiful waterscape on "Hallaig" ( Bothy Culture ) contains a sample of Martyn relieving himself. I also recall him stopping the tour bus and running into the hills to collect bizarre funghi which he would dry on the back shelf although I never did find out what it was for!

He was mischievous. Throwing wads of soggy toilet paper from the roof of the Central Hotel at the drunken queue for the nightclub across the road and giggling with delight at the confusion. 


Martyn shared his medication with me as we walked round the Museum of Scotland one Sunday afternoon. I hadn`t realized how hilarious science could be. He was also respectful, funny, curious, and courageous when dealing with his illness without dwelling on the unfairness of life replacing it with humour. As Martyn probably wouldn`t have said, What a time we had, with the time we had.

Andy Levy

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Acknowledgements

The Martyn Bennett Trust would like to thank the following: Phil Bancroft, Dolphin Boy, Mattie Foulds, Jamie Chambers, Kevin Craig, Tudor Morris and The City of Edinburgh Music School. Kevin McKenzie, Dave Milligan, Deirdre Morrison and Martin Swan. Ciorstaidh Beaton, Arthur Bruce, Calum Chapman, Elliot Cursitor, Sean Gibbs, James Paul and Raphaelle Vallet.