Eight – de/reconstructing ‘The Willows’ by Algernon Blackwood (FMP)

Blog The Week, College, planning

My main goal for this week has been to get the narrative of The Willows – and by ‘narrative’ I mean the physical events, distinct mental changes within the characters, and the rough pacing of the story – from a 15,000 word novella to a manageable list/set of incidents that I can use as a starting point for my piece. Then, from this set of incidents, I hope to extract sounds that can be used as motifs for those incidents; the goal is to simplify the events of the story, to avoid an incoherent mess of sounds – as my compositional abilities are not really of a standard to be able to coordinate too many complex sounds.

The first step in this process was to refine the narrative into bullet points. I’ve called this my ‘Key Event Breakdown‘, it’s a series of sentences summarising the situation and/or mental state of the characters at each ‘key event’ in the narrative. The sentences focus on one specific occurrence at a time – be that an important piece of dialogue, a change in scenery, or just a change of heart – with specific attention paid to the events that might merit the introduction of a new sound, or the resurgence of an establish motif. There is a total of 62 ‘events’ in my current version of this breakdown, however I believe this is probably a more detailed breakdown than I will be able to achieve during my piece – but I thought I’d share it for the sake of those studying The Willows in any capacity, the document is linked above but I’ll also be releasing a separate post containing the breakdown.

With this event breakdown I plan to start mapping the volume/intensity, pitch, location and the timbre of certain ever-present elements – like the river, the humming later in the story, or the wind. My first port of call was to draw a simple graph mapping the intensity of the river over time, based on how close the river is – drawing ever nearer as the island is washed away – and the frequency and way in which it’s mentioned. I will be elaborating on this graph with other qualities of the sound embodiment of the river – I say ‘sound embodiment’ simple because I don’t plan for it to be a single sound, rather a series of sound that merge with one another to symbolise the river’s ‘attitude’. To create this graph (pictured below) I took the first 15 events (part I) in my ‘Key Event Breakdown‘ and, having them numbered, placed them onto the original text. Then I broke the original text into paragraphs, numbering each one. From there I could draw my time axis and roughly label it using these paragraph markers, in a hope to retain some of the pacing of the original text in my finished piece. I plotted each of my ‘key events’ onto this graph with reference to their location in the text, and used the secondary axis for the intensity of the sound. Again, all this was to help me visualise the flow of my piece, giving me something to plot my other sound events against – much like having a visual scene and using those cues to place the effects, something I currently feel I need to do as my mind can’t really ‘visualise’ sonic events in time without some other structure.

Part one river sound graph (both)

(As you can see, there is one point at which the graph has two lines, this was just to remind me the overall intensity of the scene shouldn’t diminish, despite the river doing so, something I won’t need once I have my other graphs and notational material.)

I imagine there will be many more posts on the way I deconstruct and reconstruct the narrative of The Willows, but that’s it for this post. Thanks for reading.


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