20. Agincourt

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The original direction for this last track was “Dancing on the Deck”, the mythical idea of a band playing on the Titanic as it went down, a concept that’s been at the back of my mind for years.  However it remained a rough sketch to be addressed only once tracks 1-29 were finished. 
But “Guitar Suite” was re-jigged  halfway through the project, and this released for re-use the fully structured narrative story based on Agincourt. It was too good an opportunity to miss. 
This and “Last Post” were done within a couple of days of each, increasing my comfort levels and confidence with doing voiceovers.
With the guitar component removed, the story and a few sound effects alone were too sparse and one-dimensional ... and this was supposed to be a music album!   I have good collection of classical sheet music, some of which I play regularly on piano, and I knew many would suit the emotional needs of different stages of the narrative ... but I wasn’t sure if they were the ‘best’ fit.   So, in discussion with Anita (with a much wider knowledge of the classics).  Certain pieces were chosen to best fit the narrative, and these were then greatly reduced to smaller chunks ... “best of” riffs which triggered the memory even if you didn’t know the name of the piece.
Unlike acoustic guitar, I can play anything (slowly if needs be) on MIDI keyboard and have it sound as piano, organ, horns, orchestra etc. etc., i.e. full-bodied sound where each note/chord can be tweaked independently if needs be.   Once ‘recorded’, the MIDI pieces can be easily slowed/sped and transposed.
The classical music fragments selected to match the moods appeared in this order:

  • Gregorian Chant (a recording from Royalty Free Music)
  • Imperial Fanfare – Salieri (the man much maligned by Mozart in “Amadeus” as a plodder ... which, only by comparison to Mozart ... is probably justified) 
  • Rejoicing ("Royal Fireworks") - Handel
  • Adagio ("Oboe Concerto in D Minor") - Alessandro Marcello
  • Prelude and Fugue No. 2 - Bach
  • Largo ("Xerxes") - Handel
  • Autumn ("Four Seasons") - Vivaldi
  • Promenade ("Pictures at an Exhibition") - Mussorgsky
  • Prelude in E Minor – Chopin (a recording arranged/performed by Daniel Beijbom, and used with his permission)
  • Hallelujah Chorus ("Messiah") - Handel
  • Alla Hornpipe - Suite No. 2 in D Minor ("Water Music") - Handel
  • Nimrod ("Enigma Variations") – Elgar

Growing up, comedy shows and dramas on the radio were always ‘expanded’ in the mind through appropriate use of foley sounds or recorded sound effects.  Perhaps this is why I have used them on my albums.  This began with “Ferry To The Island” (Not All It Seems), through “Colours Fade and “The Cloud/Uberveillance” (Prescient).  A well placed appropriate sound not only lifts the impact of the music/words but also greatly reduces the exposition required ... e.g. explosions replace the need to say “and bombs fell and exploded all around us”.  “Agincourt” probably represent the most intense and prolonged use of sound effect by me to date.
In terms of the story, I used a formal language style which tried to invoke ‘old English’ without being obscure.  I also set it within an historically factual backdrop of social structure, transport, dates, seasons, numbers, places, compass directions, medieval warfare and Agincourt in particular.  The story itself is complete fiction but it was fun to give the unnamed protagonist a ‘sliding door’ adventure within the historical context.  I even had to change a few things when I realised the internal story logic had failed ... e.g. the recorded piece of Vivaldi’s “Summer” had to be changed to “Autumn” to match the upcoming Oct 25th date of battle.
The interlude with French peasants reflects my feeling that there is generally no animosity between ordinary folk of different countries, even when at war.   It is only the powerful who continually prosecute war and foment hatreds.
The final voice-over recording was done without needing to ‘fit’ any pre-existing arrangement.  As a result, I didn’t require headphones and sat back on a comfortable chair with the two pages of prose.  The mic was positioned at my throat.  Talking ‘down’ into a mic is something I’ve found accentuates more chest resonance ... much better for a dramatic voice over.  The voice recording was then sliced and diced and moved around for flow in and around the music intermissions and sound effects.
The result was one of the most complex productions on the album.

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