a point in the landscape (2020)

Marc Yeats - Composer

a point in the landscape (2020)

This is a timecode-supported polytemporal orchestral piece.

The piece is dedicated to my friend and colleague, the conductor and musician Ilan Volkov, whose belief in and support of my work brought about the creation of this orchestral piece.

Duration circa 20-minutes


  • Flute 1
  • Flute 2
  • Flute 3/Piccolo
  • Oboe 1
  • Oboe 2/Cor Anglais,
  • Oboe 3
  • Clarinet 1 in Bb
  • Clarinet 2 in Bb
  • Eb Clarinet
  • Bassoon 1
  • Bassoon 2
  • Contrabassoon
  • 4-horns in F
  • 3-Trumpets: Trumpet 1 in C, Trumpets 2 and 3 in Bb
  • 2-Tenor Trombones, Bass Trombone
  • Tuba
  • Percussion: player 1 *percussion set; player 2 Bass Drum; player 3 Timpani (4-kettles)
  • *Marimba (5 octaves), 4 Tom-toms ranging from low to high; 1 deep, resonant bass drum; 1 large, deep Tam-tam; 5 differently pitched resonant metal objects (boxes, tubing, saucepans, plates etc.) ranging from low to high or 5 temple blocks ranging from low to high; 4 differently pitched resonant wooden objects ranging from low to high (non-specific drums, boxes, barrels, bowls, planks, logs etc.) or bongos, low & high and conga, low & high, or any feasible combination of the above; Gong (resonant – specific or non-specific pitch); 1 High-Hat; Metal Wind Chimes (can be unorthodox ‘home-made’ cutlery jangles or such like to create the effect of resonant metal wind chimes).
  • Strings:
  • 16, 14, 12, 10, 8
  • or
  • 14, 12, 10, 8, 6

All orchestral instruments are organised into eight spatially distributed groups.

  • Group 1: Flute 3/Piccolo, Eb Clarinet, Violin, Violoncello, Percussion 1
  • Group 2: Oboe 3, Clarinet 1, Clarinet 2, Bassoon 1, 2 and Contrabassoon, Trombone 2
  • Group 3: Two string quartets (8-string players: 2, 2, 2, 2, 0)
  • Group 4: Flute 1, Flute 2, Oboe 1, Oboe 2/Cor Anglais, Trumpet 1 in C, Timpani
  • Group 5: Trumpet 2 and 3 in Bb, Trombone 1, Bass Trombone
  • Group 6: Horns 1-4
  • Group 7: Tuba, Double Bass (players 1 and 2) and Percussion 2: Bass Drum
  • Group 8: Strings (13, 12, 10, 7, 6) or (11, 10, 8, 5, 4)

Further performance notes for string players: 

The orchestral string complement of this composition is 16 1st violins, 14 2nd violins, 12 violas, 10 violoncellos and 8 double basses OR 14 1st violins, 12 2nd violins, 10 violas, 8 violoncellos and 6-double basses.

This body of string instruments is apportioned into four distinct groups: Group 1 has one violin (violin 1, player 1) and one violoncello (violoncello, player 1) added to the ensemble of instruments; Group 3 comprises two dedicated string quartets, together comprising of 2-1st. violins (violins 1, players 2 and 3), 2-2nd. violins (violins 2, players 1 and 2), 2-violas (players 1 and 2) and 2-violoncello (players 2 and 3); Group 7 has two double basses incorporated into its ensemble (players 1 and 2); and Group 8, by far the largest string grouping and the largest group of players in the composition, holds the remainder of the string section laid out below.

Parts have been differentiated into specialist solo string writing in Groups 1, 3, and 7 and non-solo part writing in Group 8.

Important note about performance in Group 8

Each section of Group 8, violins 1, violins 2, violas, violoncellos and double basses, are further divided into groups, each marked ‘a’ and ‘b’. Player numbers should be assigned thus:

For 16, 14, 12, 10, 8

  • Violin 1a – players 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Violin 1b – players 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
  • Violin 2a – players 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Violin 2b – players 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
  • Viola a – players 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Viola b – players 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Violoncello a – players 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Violoncello b – players 8, 9, 10
  • Double basses a – players 3, 4, 5
  • Double basses b – players 6, 7, 8

For 14, 12, 10, 8, 6

  • Violin 1a – players 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Violin 1b – players 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
  • Violin 2a – players 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Violin 2b – players 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Viola a – players 3, 4, 5, 6
  • Viola b – players 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Violoncello a – players 4, 5, 6
  • Violoncello b – players 7, 8
  • Double basses a – players 3, 4
  • Double basses b – players 5, 6

String materials for each of these section subdivisions are duplicates. Although these string pairs share the same material, there should be no attempt to synchronise the parts precisely in performance. Each string player is treated individually and encouraged to mediate their performances using the timecode described in the performance notes without synchronous reference to the other players. This approach leads to a heterophonic effect when similar materials are rendered simultaneously, enriching the shared materials through slight variances in their timing and rhythmic, dynamic and expressive components.

Programme Note:

a point in the landscape is dedicated to my friend and colleague, the conductor and musician Ilan Volkov, who recognised the potential in my timecode-supported polytemporal methodology for composing and performing perceptually complex polytemporal orchestral music—a leap of faith for which I am deeply grateful.

a point in the landscape is a timecode-supported polytemporal orchestral piece. It operates without a conductor, click-tracks, or a traditional score. Instead, music is performed from fully notated individual instrumental parts, all operating at simultaneously different speeds. In this unique approach, the players are responsible for unfolding the piece. To achieve this, they utilise a timecode, represented as minutes and seconds above each bar in their parts, to indicate the duration and the passage of time. Players also use loosely synchronised individual mobile phone stopwatches displaying clock-time passing to provide coordination. The goal is to achieve a rough synchronisation between the timecode and digital clock time during the performance. The closer this synchronisation, the closer the rendition reflects my compositional model.

It’s crucial to note that this unfolding process does not yield precisely repeatable performance outcomes. The balance between my intentions conveyed through notation and the players’  interpretations using timecode and stopwatches makes the vertical alignment of its details during each performance a unique iteration. At the same time, the global architecture of the piece remains largely stable.

In this music, the audibility of polytemporal layers is secondary to the fluid, quicksilver and transformative relationships the method enables between players and their materials. Generating unique experiences for audiences, ensembles, and orchestras, each player is a soloist, performing in their independent tempi and enjoying temporal, expressive, interpretive, and spatial freedoms that are difficult to achieve within the framework of conducted music.

To avoid descending into sonic chaos and establish a dramatic impact between materials, extremes of polytemporal density within the piece are contrasted with less dense and less chaotic-sounding content. The movement between these two states—between perceptual obfuscation and clarity—occurs multiple times within the piece’s 20-minute duration. These transitions mark the cyclic journeys that constitute the work’s narrative and structure—a narrative propelled forward by an often-relentless momentum that, like a moth drawn to a flame, burns out in the composition’s final moments, returning all sounds to the silence from which they emerged.

To help distinguish the multiple polytemporal stratifications of this sonic landscape, the orchestra is divided into eight spatially positioned ensemble groups located around the performance area. Each group comprises different instrumental arrays with no exact temporal relationship to any other. The goal is for the audience to experience the music from among these groups, providing each listener with a uniquely different aural perspective.

The culmination of spatialisation, polytemporal performance and heterogeneous materials makes this a music of extremes. It is characterised by hyperactivity, hyper-density, quicksilver colouristic fluctuations and perceptually complex sound combinations articulated through virtuosic instrumental part writing. This requires great technical facility, expressive insight and emotional stamina from performers when mediating its notation and instantiating its sound. From the listener’s perspective, the music can be experienced for its physicality, energy and contingency. As for its meaningfulness, I’ll leave that to each listener to ascertain from whatever point within the musical landscape they find themselves.

For more information about how timecode-supported polytemporal music works, please watch this video: