Composing the supernatural
By Alex Cottrell, composer of the Bisclavret score for the University of Liverpool’s event Being Supernatural.
Originally featured on Alex Cottrell’s blog
If you reach back into the intervallic archive of my blog, you’ll have your memory jogged that I wrote some music for The Liverpool University Players. In fact, I recently finished the score for the Players’ latest production of Bisclavret – a 12th century Breton lai by Marie de France. The show tells the tale of the titular character and his questionable wife who learns that he is living a double life as a werewolf and conspires to trap him in his lupine form.
Furthermore, Bisclavret was performed at Liverpool’s wonderful Walker Gallery which hosted the event. It was an exploration to the fringes of humanity, delving into supernatural worlds and fantastical creatures within medieval literature and seeking relevance to our everyday lives. Plus, the play was preceded by a talk from Professor Sarah Peverley.
As for the music – once again I tried my hand at a delicate balance between authenticity and creativity. Though it was a short production, I took what opportunities I could to develop some clear themes using traditional European instrumentation from the medieval period. For example, during the feast there was a rather rousing number for lute, harp, recorder, accordion and percussion, inspired by pre-Middle Ages Breton dances being reinterpreted by contemporary artists, like Orlulas. There was a light touch of modern production and ambience to give a sense of something old being discovered and re-imagined for today’s audience.
It’s worth mentioning that my duties also extended to sound design. During the planning stages, we were discussing how to navigate a limited performance space and minimal scenery while maintaining a strong sense of place and time throughout. I suggested that the use of audio beyond just music would help conjure up the appropriate mental images – and so set about creating some soundscapes to complete the picture of a medieval interior, a forest and a feast.