Once Upon a Time - by James Dillon

Once Upon a Time 

 James Dillon

When the premiere of a work called ‘Once Upon a Time’ at the Huddersfield Festival of 1980,  James Dillon was immediately thrust centre stage.  Hitherto, James Dillon's success had been variable.  Mainly learning his craft in libraries rather than formal institutions and without the prospect of a performance at the end, many of his early pieces were left incomplete.  The first substantial work Babble (1974-6) was a brief glimpse of things to come.  Although now James Dillon disregards the rigorous architectural design in which everything 'is mapped out despite the material'.  After the first section was rehearsed by the newly formed Charles Ives Choir who were perplexed by some of the graphic notation, the work was abandoned.   His momentary interest in serialism in ‘Dillug-Kefitsah’ (1976) encouraged James Dillon to examine the seemingly paradoxical notion of a 'parametrical discipline' working against an ‘experimental freedom’.  As a result, he had cultivated such a real sense of artistry that he was enabled to publicly document his 'first work'.    Finally, he had begun to unshackle himself from the problems of infrastructure which had dogged his earlier works (a difficulty which is perhaps more evident for a largely self-taught composer).  However, this work was not yet a solution to the kind of schism between ‘process’ and ‘form’ that he had encountered in the earlier work ‘Babble’.  What was needed was a completed re-evaluation of the process of composition.  Around this time, Xenakis produced his inspired thoughts on the essential aspects of composition in a book called Formalised Music.  Now, James Dillon was encouraged to reject the notion of heterophony (counterpoint, melody, harmony) and serialism that was very much a concern of his contemporaries for an amorphous texture generated by generalised principles.   Perhaps unconsciously, James Dillon was about to create his own individual style as characterised in ‘Once Upon a Time’.  However, and this is perhaps what makes James Dillon such an interesting figure, such a straightforward analysis of his early work as a composer is somewhat naïve, especially when the two previous works written around the same time are taken into consideration.  The solo clarinet work ‘Crossing Over’(1978) uses material from a wide range of sources and so does the solo drum work that followed, ‘Ti.re-Ti.ke-Dha’(1979).  The title of the latter work is derived from the verbal instructions given to drummers of North Indian Classical Music (‘Dha’ indicates both hands in the centre; ‘Ti’ is a kind of 'rim-shot' etc...).  Combinations of words indicate a ‘Tal’ or a repetitive rhythmic pattern and the title of the James Dillon piece appears to be a fragment of one just like the third and fourth beats of the Ektål:

1          2          3          4
Dhin     Dhin     Dhage  Ti.ra.ki.ta etc...

In this respect, James Dillon’s music represents an apparent contradiction; rigorous in terms of application but derived from a diverse inspiration. This indicates a powerfully creative but strongly independent mind.