Music inspired by the photographs of Margaret Watkins

Gramophone2nd Feb 2015
On board ship Dover to Ostend, 1928 – For me this image conveys a poetic moment where elements come together to create an unexpected dynamic. Watkins seemed to relish capturing those moments. It would nice to think that Barnaby and I have replicated something of that in our piece!
From Finnieston Crane – Watkins’ intuitive approach to find the unusual in the usual meant she often took the less obvious view – here she has climbed the massive crane at the edge of the Clyde river to capture the shape of the Rotunda and the life scurrying around it. It is enlightening sometimes to be forced to look at things from a different perspective. In some ways this image captures the whole essence of the collaboration with Barnaby which forced us to look at creating a piece in a new way.
Head and Hand, 1925 – This image has such a simple beauty to it. Knowing Watkins’ story as I do, I also feel there is a sense of loss and a deep desire for connection expressed in the hand’s gentle cupping of the head. The beginning of the Watkins piece, a sort of requiem, was influenced by her life story – a moving history of significant achievement and an initial career at the centre of artistic life in New York but which ended in obscurity in Glasgow.
Sortie de Metro Paris, 1930s – Watkins had a great eye for the unexpected moment in the seemingly everyday. I find that very inspirational. I like the rather other-worldly feel of this image: the strangeness that no-one seems to be noticing. What Barnaby and I have tried to do is capture something of the essence of her approach and to produce a piece that conveys the mystery, beauty and poignancy of her photography.
Tramway Lines Glasgow, 1928-38 – As with much of Watkins’ work the ordinary is often made extraordinary through her lens. Here a simple scene is transformed into something more poignant as it seems that the policeman is gesturing to an empty world; he appears displaced – a theme that permeates many of Watkins’ images and one I find very interesting. I wanted to try to distil something of that poignancy in the piece.
Window Scene inside Royal Photographic Exhibition London, 1931 – Views through windows and glass feature frequently in Watkins’ work, she often seemed to seek out the abstract qualities in a scene, focusing on pattern and rhythm. Her desire to make the ordinary full of intrigue, so that you are pulled back to look again, inspired Barnaby and I to think about multi-layering and including unexpected elements in the piece.

Composer Malcolm Lindsay's new album, After the Snow, features a piece co-written with clarinettist Barnaby Robson called Watkins, which is inspired by the photography of Margaret Watkins. 

The gallery above features six of Watkins's photographs with descriptions by Malcolm Lindsay about how each played a role in the creative process. Lindsay explains, 'The piece began as an ambient soundtrack which through collaboration with Barnaby Robson developed into a multi-layered work. The creative process involved constructing a sound landscape from sampled and manipulated audio to reflect Margaret's intriguing images and enigmatic life. Barnaby then responded to this with eight clarinet lines, and then we started to introduce further electronic sampling and began manipulating some of the clarinet parts. I wanted to introduce spoken word into the piece and so worked on a recording using Margaret's own poetic words. As we moved towards finalising the piece through late night exchanges of digital files between Glasgow and London, we experimented with reversing and clipping parts of the sound track. I think what we’ve created is rather filmic in nature though we didn’t set out to do that but in trying to capture something of the essence of her photography, I think we’ve produced a piece that has a sense of mystery, beauty and poignancy.'

The world premiere of Watkins takes place in the Recital Hall at the Royal College of Music on February 5After the Snow is released on February 9 (pre-order it from Amazon).

Margaret Watkins images are owned by Joe Mulholland, Hidden Lane Gallery, Glasgow and used by kind permission.

Select an image above to open the gallery.

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