One day, when Colin Rayner was taking his dogs for their customary run in the park, and musing over what to give his son for his eighteenth birthday, he came up with an extraordinary idea. He thought of commissioning a short piece of music about the nature of time and space (‘of the inner variety’, he later qualified); music that incorporated ‘a bit of particle theory’, was accessibly contemporary, lyrical (‘even song-like’), ended in a mood of joyful optimism, a trio to be scored for advanced amateur viola, flute and xylophone players. Quite a list! (Not to mention it needing to be ready for performance in less than six months). Even Colin wondered if this was far too specific a commissioning brief to be realistic, but he asked me if I would consider taking it on; despite all the specific requirements and the extremely tight deadline, within a few minutes I found myself agreeing to this. The concept was irresistible – immediately sparking off lots of thoughts - and I like a challenge. Within a few days I had sketched out some fragments of music and (because it was for an eighteenth birthday), the plan for a sequence of eighteen tiny movements.
I always start with titles. Once a title has worked its way to the surface, a door opens to the elusive place in my mind where wispy ideas float around, waiting to be captured, looked at, and arranged in the correct order. In this case, the overall title came almost immediately: At the edge of time. This prompted the thought that before time became time there must have been timelessness, so the first movement should be subtitled “… from timelessness…”. Then I devised a flow of subtitles that would carry the ‘narrative’ of the piece, movement by movement, towards its optimistic, outward-looking finale.
Most of At the edge of time was written in the dark days that fall at the interface between the Old Year and the New; days when a small amount of daylight emerges late in the morning and fades quickly in the early afternoon. It was the perfect backdrop for working at a piece exploring the darkness at the centre of inner space. But during this composition process I also kept in my mind’s eye the light airy room where the first performance would take in the spring. I knew this room well, and wrote imagining its three-dimensional space, and how the instruments could react and respond to each others’ sounds. By chance, this journey from winter into spring was a parallel metaphor for the journey made by the sequence of movements in the finished piece. When Colin heard the music for the first time, the look on his face was hugely rewarding. ‘What is so astonishing,’ he said later, ‘is that I had this amorphous idea about time and space, while walking my dogs, and you have managed to grasp it, and express for me through music that other people can hear and enjoy too’.
You can find the sheet music for At the edge of time at: www.fabermusicstore.com/At-The-Edge-Of-Time-0571534538.aspx