Inspiring Art and Music


Joanna Nicholson is a freelance clarinettist working throughout Scotland and further afield. Performances in the last year include Grit Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Turning the Elements voice and clarinet duo at the Edinburgh Fringe and Red Note Digital Noisy Nights - as well as the re-opening of Aberdeen Art Gallery. She has used the time in lockdown to explore opportunities for composition.

Jo explains, "I had been talking to the Gallery team about doing a series of 'pop-up performances' around the building. Although we can't actually be in the Art Gallery at the moment, these recordings are very much in the spirit of pop up performances. You can hear that they have been made in my house, not a professional recording studio - there are little creaks and bird tweets for example, so they very much have that live feel of a work in progress. All of the ideas could be developed into much longer pieces in time. Hopefully they will encourage listeners to come and hear the pop-ups in the Gallery, whenever they happen in real time.



'Cathedral Rock, Iona', 1920 by Samuel John Peploe


A clarinet piece called Gyre (which means a circular or spiral motion or form) and the story of how I was inspired to write it. This piece would probably fit in Gallery 16: Shoreline, however, my brain was really taken with imagining how wonderful it would sound to be performed live from the top of the Gallery, using the incredible acoustic and also offering a physical space for listeners where they could really visualise the gyre.




'Train Landscape' by Eric Ravilious


A clarinet and piano piece which I have called Afternoon is about that afternoon sense of ennui (that may be particularly noticeable for many during lockdown). I saw it as going alongside paintings of elegant women seeming slightly detached (see Gallery 14: Art of Empowerment) or the Eric Ravilious painting Train Landscape, looking out of a train window at the horse on the hill, (Gallery 15: Paradise Lost) It is contemplative and calm, with a slight sense of longing.




'For You' by Tracey Emin
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2019

Love Heart

A piano piece called Love Heart is directly inspired by Tracy Emin's neon heart, 'For You'. I have tried to capture the initial sense of sentimentality, which masks a deeper feeling. In line with the pop culture style of the work, I took the first six notes of the Beatles song "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah", and used them to create the entire improvisation. Like love, the piece frustrates you ever so slightly in the way that it flows.




'A Scottish Ballad' by Robert Motherwell
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc. /VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

A Scottish Ballad

This is modelled after Robert Motherwell's collage in Gallery 17: Abstract Art. I noticed the work in a Smartify Discover Aberdeen Art Gallery Tour

I absolutely love a feature of this composition, which is that the base track (if you like, the blue background) is the actual drone that you can hear in Gallery 16, part of Dalziel & Scullion's film, Another Place. I recorded it onto my phone, so the gallery itself manages to feature in the work!

The layers of collage over that blue background drone are the 'Scottish' part - I represent Politics (a treated recording of a Covid-19 update made by Nicola Sturgeon, re-voiced it myself by me), Religion (the church organ at my sister's wedding) and Landscape (my footsteps on the stony beach at my house). Seabirds made a blithe contribution also to my clarinet recordings, which represent the fragment of sheet music. The overall effect of Motherwell's collage is bright and upward, therefore I have used no bass notes.




'Blue Lurex Dress' by Bill Gibb
© Bill Gibb Trust (2011)

Blue Lurex Dress

Inspired by the exquisite dress designed by Bill Gibb on display in Gallery 1: Collecting Art, the opening chords of a 12-bar blues cascade down in a lurex shimmer....and then the dress really starts to swing. A lockdown kitchen drum-set (egg pan, colander, cheese grater!) adds to the party atmosphere.




'A Groundswell, Carradale' by William McTaggart


Some music to go with the painting, A Groundswell, Carradale by Scottish painter, William McTaggart, (Gallery 10: French Impressions). I hope that it would suit the tour of that gallery generally, the feeling being of the spacious airiness of a sea trip in a small, open boat, or standing atop the cliffs.

If you want to get technical, I used a mode that suggests folk traditions of the west coast of Scotland, but would also crop up in the impressionist music of Debussy - the French link supporting the Monet painting of the cliffs in the same gallery. But I don't suppose anyone will want to bother with that, rather they'll take the opportunity to float away...…