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What hath Night to do with Sleep?

I see a lot of the night.

I get up early; it’s good to write before the household has woken, though my daughter is yet to fully grasp the ‘lie in’ concept. So, I stay up late also: it’s good to write after the household is asleep. And then there are deadlines, which require on occasion one’s participation in a spot of extreme timetabling, particularly when you have overindulged in the ‘creative procrastination’ stage of the compositional process. What I mean to say is: by accident or design, much of my music has been written in the hours of darkness.

There’s a strange kind of focus that comes with composing through the night (assuming you stay awake). During the day I will flit from idea to idea to email to cat gif to idea, but at night it’s much easier to stick with a single problem. I’m not convinced there’s an increase in efficiency: ‘fixation’ is probably a better description than focus. But my point is this: night-time is not more-time or extra-time or spare-time-when-you-should-be-sleeping-but-sleep-is-for-the-weak-and-really-this-piece-is-already-late-so-lets-just-get-to-the-end-another-few-hours-should-do-it-time. It is different time – you think differently, you hear differently, time passes differently. To be awake at night is not to be awake longer, it is to be differently awake.

My little night music for violin and cello is, essentially, an obsessively repeated song from the ‘other’ world of microtonal harmonies. It is an anti-duo, this in the sense that the two instruments are fused together as a single unit throughout; it’s about one-ness rather than two-ness. Nothing changes, really, but as the verses stack up, the violin’s ornamentation lifts it airborne, until it seems to find a space of its own, separate from the cello.

Because the best bit, the bit that makes you realise that it really is time to leave the desk but somehow glad that you’re still there to hear it begin, is when the stillness starts to ripple with birdsong.

Martin's duo 'Nocturne' will have it's Scottish premiere on the 3rd November at Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow

Image credit: Tessa Oksanen

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