There once was a time when mankind celebrated the vital role of rhythm through ritual, an acknowledgement of its centrality to the cosmos. Relying heavily on the audible and inaudible cycles in the world around him, man had to be in tune with the rhythm of his own body and his surroundings to survive. With city life and advanced technology dominating the landscape of today, we are perhaps less in touch with nature or the pressing need for survival. However, rhythm is still the fundamental motor of the implicit and explicit transactions of our daily lives.
Quest Ensemble’s composition “City Footfall” is inspired by this notion of the inherent rhythm of the city and its inhabitants. The musical idea first struck us as we were improvising in a stark underground practice room located in the heart of the Barbican, where our only access to the outside world was a window at eye level through which we could see the legs and feet of city workers scurrying past at different speeds and paces, at times stopping to take notice of surroundings or have an encounter with one another. Intuitively responding to the place and space we were in, the ongoing motion of the city seeped into our musical ideas. The seeds of City Footfall began to take shape as did the imagination of its story.
Formed in 2009, our trio Quest ensemble composes collaboratively, exploring different starting points and methods to create original pieces of music. Working primarily without notation, we see improvisation and composition as part of the same fluid continuum. The beauty of the architectural process of our work lies in its dynamism, as each of the three members can move a musical or conceptual idea forward in unpredictable ways, creating a constant mobility. Requiring a special kind of awareness and listening, “City footfall” is a good example of this dynamism; with a structure that is defined and yet simultaneously lends itself to the moment, the piece evolves and has a new meaning every time we perform within a new space and new audience.
Music-making and urban life have more parallels than we may realize, with their demands of tempo and precision to balance chaos and order, whilst also retaining an essence of improvisation and play. Even when working within a structure, we still have great freedom to respond the moment and to each other.
Resembling the city, “City Footfall” brings out repetitive patterns in dialogue with non-linear events and more varied background sound effects. With only the three players and three instruments, we build density through the use of repetition and the layering of complementary elements, an ebb and flow of differing dynamics and a full texture. The piece then opens up into a relentless bass line and groove that highlights the continuous motion of the city and drives the rest of the piece forward. This rhythmic pace encapsulates the joy, excitement and exhaustion of living in a city.
As seen through the creation of “City Footfall,” the interaction and play that we in Quest have with each other in both the creative process and performance keeps our imagination and the connection to the world around us alive.