Rowan Rheingans on Two Legged Animal

Rowan Rheingans is a musician who has created and arranged the music for Two Legged Animal and will be performing live with Ziggy. We caught up with Rowan during rehearsals for Two Legged Animal and asked her a couple of questions about collaboration, music and performance:

When creating music do you find that you start with the melody or lyrics first?

It depends if I am conscious of what I want to create or whether I am just playing with ideas. If I want to write a song about a particular theme, for example, or am writing for a particular purpose, it might be useful to begin with some lyrics. As I work mostly in the traditional music idiom, often the music I create is drawn from lyrics that already exist, for example in an archive recording or a manuscript. I also play and compose music without lyrics – for example, the music in Two Legged Animal, uses fiddle and voice but there are no words as such. I decided this because I think, in a way, words make meaning necessarily more ‘concrete’ and the show that Ziggy and I have created, I feel, is open for many different interpretations. For the music in this show, I began with sounds and textures before any melodic themes emerged. I wanted to know what ‘tools’ and sounds I had at my disposal in this context and how my playing and singing was influenced by watching Ziggy improvise on the rope. Much of the music for Two Legged Animal has come out of improvising and playing with ideas together with Ziggy.

What do you find is the most recurring challenge of creating music?

There are many challenges. For this kind of show, one challenge has been to remember to use silence and to not play. It sounds strange but, especially as I am the only musician, there is a temptation to play all the time – to play through any silence, when actually silence and the times I am ‘not playing’ should be as important as when I choose to play. Quietness is revealing, which is both a scary and an exciting and productive thing. Another challenge in ‘Two Legged Animal’ has been to try to be at one with what Ziggy is doing in the show, to play ‘outside’ of myself . As much of the music in this show remains quite improvised, around themes that I have developed while working with Ziggy, there is also the challenge of remaining spontaneous and alert to what is going on in the show, in the moment, and balancing that with drawing on the themes that I bring in to colour the characters and moods of the shows journey. When to take the lead and when to follow – that’s the exciting challenge of making music in this way.

You are part if the trio Lady Maisery, duo The Rheingans Sisters, other bands and projects, as well as creating your own music, how do these different collaborations compare? 

Yes, I am involved in a lot of different bands and projects, which I like. All the collaborations I do are different because they involve different people with different aspirations and ideas for the music we are making. I suppose different collaborations utilise and inspire different parts of my creativity. For example, the work I do with Lady Maisery is focussed very much on finding a ‘band’ sound and exploring our voices in the rewordings of traditional material. Our music is very focussed and thought-through – we spend a very long time working on new material and interrogating the choices we are making about arrangement and interpretation.  This is different from when I play concerts with my sister, Anna – our music appears more ‘in the moment’: of course, we know the tunes we are playing before we perform them, but not the exact arrangement. I like that room for spontaneity and it keeps me very alert during gigs to whatever might happen next in the music – I think audiences love to watch that kind of communication between performers, too. Doing solo work or being the only musician in a project, such as Two Legged Animal, is different again – different things to be inspired by, ideas to bounce off and context to work in. Variety is the spice!

How have you found collaborating with Ziggy, a circus artist, to create Two Legged Animal?

Two Legged Animal is my first collaboration with a circus artist and my first solo commission as a composer – so it’s pretty different from everything i’ve done in my music career so far! I’m really enjoying it. Ziggy is a great person to work with as she has clear ideas about the show but is very open to my input – I feel like the final show will be a true collaboration. Working together has been exciting and challenging at times too – sometimes, when we’ve had too many possible ideas, we’ve had to kind of reign ourselves back a bit and come back to the core ideas of the show. It’s been so interesting working with Ziggy, too, as we are coming from totally different artistic backgrounds. She describes the kind of music she imagines for a part of the show in terms of emotion, colour or movement and I kind of have to translate that into musical ideas – that’s been my favourite part I think, making those connections.

Remember to get your tickets for the Bristol preview on the 4th Feb at 7:30pm.

Or you’ll be like this when we sell out:


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