James Littlewood [Age 21, VIC]

Composition: Metacognition

Hi my name is James Littlewood and I am currently studying classical Bass Trombone at Monash University. I began playing trombone when I was 10 years of age. I switched to bass trombone during high school and started to find more inspiration in my music studies. I started to study theory and began composing short pieces and fragments as a hobby, which I’ve continued to do since.

Composition inspiration

My piece is called Metacognition, a word meaning ‘thinking about thinking’. Metacognition is the name for the way in which we consider how we learn best, analyse and evaluate things in everyday life. It’s definitely a very abstract idea.  I wanted to write a piece that not only depicts the way we think and develop ideas, but also something that reflects the abstract nature of metacoginition. The piece is made up of a number of fragments which are varied in different ways throughout. The first fragment is initially heard in the bras
s, and is probably the most fanfare-like part of the piece. It’s three notes that move in perfect 5ths and represents a single thought. The thought is developed harmonically and rhythmically and moves through the circle of fifths, and uses the whole orchestra. Another idea of mine was to create a kind of mechanical image of the mind, and this can be heard not only in the rhythmic development of the ‘thought’ theme, but also in two other fragments. The first is a simple semiquaver drone in the marimba which ticks away in the background, and the second is the big orchestral hits on C. I love the sound of orchestral hits used in electronic music, and the very exact and heavily produced nature of this genre was also a source of inspiration. Over the last year I’ve been discovering a love for post-minimalist music, and one of my favourite composers at the moment is David Lang. One of the things I love about the style is how simple musical ideas are developed to create complex and challenging rhythms and textures. The piece I’m about to show you is a great example of how Lang’s minimalist techniques have influenced me in creating the fanfare. It’s called Cheating, Lying, Stealing, I will play just a short extract from the beginning. What I want you to listen out for is how the first phrase is developed. You’ll hear an E minor arpeggio with quite a straight forward rhythm at first, that is gradually varied by stretching and compressing the rhythm. Also new layers are added in creating another level of complexity. I also like this piece and Lang’s music because he is able to stir a lot of feeling and emotion throughout. The piece is intense and heavy, yet at the same time provides listeners with a chance to empathise with Lang and his vulnerability.