Mean Bird (1991)

Duration: 12’
Synthesized tape score, with Caroline Smart (cello)
Choreography: Rachel Lopez de la Nieta
Workshop performance at Central School of Ballet, June 1991

Part of Philip Feeney’s remit in the early years of Central School of Ballet was to help nurture the young choreographic talent that was coming through. Young dancer/choreographer, Rachel Lopez de la Nieta, was one of these, and as a second year student, she prepared an ambitious work for the annual choreographic showing. With Mean Bird, she planned a semi-narrative triptych, tracing the journey from nonconformist to outcast in different cultures and different eras; Feeney was more than happy to contribute a score which promised to tackle such a wide range of music.

Consequently the three sections are all in different musical styles. The first, set in Tibet complete with a belltree on stage, uses a spatial synth flute sound from the Kawai K1, with added ritual percussion (sampled on the Akai S950). The second section is set in sixteenth century Europe, and appropriately the music is based on an Elizabethan air, The Browning, played on a digital keyboard sound reminiscent of a period virginal. This was accompanied by the recorded cello of Caroline Smart, who was also to play on Michael Keegan-Dolan’s The Fascination of Bee-Keeping later in the year.

The final section, which was a driving and forceful keyboard piece that led unremittingly to a strong, even violent climax, took the narrative to the killing fields of Cambodia. The music in this section was continually changing metre, despite the relentless driving motion, and in fact one could say this forward drive was exacerbated and intensified by the metric instability. This was a technique that Feeney had employed before, when composing the war scenes in Michael Pinks’ Strange Meeting – in both pieces the digital piano sound of the Roland D550 is made to sound like machine gunfire.