James McBean is a Composer and Multi-Instrumentalist based in the UK.
Over the last decade James has worked with Music and Film professionals establishing a seasoned portfolio. His portfolio includes a range of material from classical works to soundtracks for film and video games.
Among his influences are strong ties to literature and the natural world.
His work is characterised by arching melodies transporting the listener into another world of sonic delights .
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Across the Sea, Eider Down
The Sea of Moyle was commissioned as part of the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival by the joint efforts of the Ballycastle Writers Group and the Fairhead Photographic Club. This piece was written to complement an exhibition of poetry and photographic artwork to be exhibited at the 2018 Rathin Sound Maritime Festival. These works were inspired by the landscape and folklore of the Rathlin Sound and the Sea of Moyle.
Growing up on the north coast of Northern Ireland, I was a frequent visitor to Rathlin Island. I found myself captivated by the landscape of the North Antrim Coast. It, its folklore and its musical traditions have profoundly shaped my creative output. So, it was a great privilege to be asked to compose a set of folk tunes to accompany an exhibition that celebrates the area that I know and love.
The track features sounds that I recorded in the area back in the spring of 2017. These sounds include the lapping of waves off a sailing boat in the Rathlin Sound and the sounds of sea birds recorded at Ballintoy Harbour. Whilst recording the sound of the waves on the boat, the Belfast Coast Guard came over the radio with a weather update. I left this in as I felt it ties these ambient sounds directly to the area. As well as the sounds of gulls, the bird song recorded at Ballintoy Harbour also includes the cooing of the Eider Ducks, and a rather tuneful Robin.
Below are three of the photos from the exhibition, these reflect some of my inspirations for the piece. Evita Browne Photography's Eider Down girl at Fairhead; Sue McBean's Moonlit Fairy Thorn; and Andrew Cameron Mitchell's Falcog Mhor Drontheim in Church Bay.
© Evita Browne Photography
© Sue McBean
© Andrew Cameron-Mitchell
© Evita Browne Photography
Geraldine Fitzgerald's poem Fionnghuala, one of the poems exhibited at the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, was inspired by Evita Browne's Eider Down girl at Fairhead.
The set Sea of Moyle, is made up of two tunes: Across the Sea and Eider Down. Across the Sea is a slow air and was initially conceived as a call across the waves as a musical representation of the connection of the two communities celebrated in the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival that are separated by the Rathlin Sound. Eider Down, the second tune in the set, is a Jig and is named in reference to the Eider Duck and as a play on words with the highly sought-after down from the female duck during the nesting period to make quilts and duvets. The Eider Duck is a coastal bird resident in the northern coasts of Europe and Greenland. The bird is classified on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable and from 2000 until 2027 it is estimated that their population will have decreased by 30-49%. Still a popular sight in Northern Ireland, the bird can often be seen along the shoreline. It has an extremely distinctive cooing sound.
I wanted the piece to emerge from its surroundings so, setting the scene for the whole set, the field recordings and the tin whistle here invite the listener in to the magical landscape. These field recordings reoccur at various landmarks throughout the piece, anchoring the listener to the coast. With a strong tradition of sailing, I wanted the percussive sounds to sound like the wind dropping in and out of the sails.
All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
When me and my true love lay snug in one nest,
When a bold set of ruffians broke into our cave,
And they forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.
I begged hard for my darling as I would for my life.
But they'd not listen to me although a fond wife,
Saying: The king must have sailors, to the seas he must go,
And they left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.
Through green fields and meadows we of times have walked,
And the fond recollections together have talked,
Where the lark and the blackbird so sweetly did sing,
And the lovely thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.
Now although I'm forsaken, I won't be cast down.
Who knows but my true love some day may return
And will make me amends for my trouble and strife,
And me and my true love might live happy for life.
English Folk Songs; Vaughan Williams
'All things are quite silent' is a composition based on the folk song by the same name. I first came across this folk song in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A .L. Lloyd's collection of English Folk Songs. This personal, heart wrenching song comes from a time of impressment in Britain, dating this song to sometime before 1835. Impressment was a kind of forced conscription enforced
by press-gangs. From the late 17th Century through to 1835, when impressment had all but faded out (English Folk Songs, Williams, R), hundreds of thousands of eligible men where called upon to man the warships of Britain. This song is part of a wider wealth of personal stories and fiction that help paint ‘images of press gangs dragging husbands from weddings and people who have no experience of the sea’ (The Myth of the Press Gang, Dancy, J).
Transforming the song’s original context and applying a rather more 21st Century filter to it, I decided to frame the piece in a post apocalyptic world. To aid this process I set the lyrics to one side, using them purely as a frame of reference and source material. I was able to leave the original tune unadulterated as the ambiguity of the Dorian mode lends itself really well to the disquieting atmosphere that I was creating. However, in fragmenting the original melody, I was able to create a new context for each part of the tune and thus able to weave my own narrative into the song. Throughout the composition process I held in my mind the following, slightly adjusted, narrative:
Someone trapped in a bunker waiting for a response from their lover who has gone out into the post-apocalyptic world that surrounds them. The cavernous reverberation of the otherwise empty bunker amplifies every clunk of metal and whirring of the ventilation system, reminding them of their partner’s absence. With each radio crackle hope blooms that they are out there reaching back. It is only through holding on to the idea that they will come back that they can go on.
This piece uses samples and recordings of instruments from my own collection, including: Piano, Guitar, Mandolin, Crotales and Glockenspiel. As well as these I was able to borrow a Motorola CP040 radio for the hisses and beeps.
Composed during my time in York, UK, these piano pieces are inspired by various places around the city and surrounding countryside.
I originally started writing this as a setting of Ave Maria
In October 2017 I suffered from some technological difficulties with my computer regularly crashing. As a result my computer was in various states of repair for the whole month.
For a long time my computer has been an essential part of my compositional process. Being without it meant I was confronted with the extent of my dependence on it and my initial sense that I would not be able to compose without it. This was compounded by a frustrating repair process, during which I felt that the specific issues that were affecting my machine were not being identified or dealt with.
Repair ID is a musical ramble exploring my own sense, or indeed lack, of creative purpose and the rather clinical way in which the repair company was dealing with my computer.
All of the musical material stems from my repair identification number (193850). This is first as a horizontal tone-row of the corresponding pitches that, over time, is transformed into a vertical rearrangement of the figure. Eventually, with the return of the original tone row, these two approaches are combined forming the climax of the piece.
Having got my computer back, I am pleased to share this slightly different approach to compositional creation. The single is available to purchase and the sheet music is available as a free download. Despite my initial frustration I am pleased to say that I found the experience refreshing, that it sometimes takes an external push to force some introspection and change of your creative processes.
Repair ID – 193850 was composed and recorded by James McBean in October 2017.
Day’s fondest moments are at dawn,
Refreshed by his long sleep, the Light
Kisses the languid lips of Night
Ere she can rise and hasten on.
All glowing from his dreamless rest
He holds her closely to his breast,
And sees her dusky eyes grow dim,
’Till, lo ! she dies for love of him.
Water's Edge opens with the sound of water droplets in a limestone cave. As piece continues you are taken along a journey following the rivers course as it gently carries you towards the sea.
Our God, Our Defence was commissioned by All Saints Church, York in 2015 for the dedication of a New Stained glass Window installed in the Church. This is a setting of the regimental Collect for the Royal Dragoon Guards based in York.
O God, Our defence, Our Castle and our Shield. Whose blessed Son has taught us that no man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for thy kingdom:
Grant, we beseech thee, that we, thy servants of the Royal Dragoon Guards, may never be severed from thy grace; and united under thy standard may choose to follow him who hath the words of eternal life, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In 2014 I was asked to compose music for an animated short. It was a fantasy adventure film that unfortunately never got finished however, at the time, they needed the score on short notice. Based on the brief, concept art and a finished storyboard this is what I came up with at the time.
The story dealt with friendship and loss structured around a central quest.