[and] a powerful flame came out of the earth […] (2019)
[and] a powerful flame came out of the earth […] for large orchestra
Dedicated to my dear friend, Sylvia Junge, as a gift for her 80th. birthday.
5[1/picc188.8.131.52/picc2.5/alto/picc3] – 5[1.2/Ca184.108.40.206/Ca2] – 5[1.2.3.Bcl1.Bcl2] – 5[1.2.3.Cbn1.Cbn2] – 8.5[220.127.116.11.Btpt]3.2 – Tmp(2 players)+1* – Str[16 (1 soli).14 (1 soli).12 (1 soli).10 (1 soli).8]
Duration: 31.44 minutes
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[and] a powerful flame came out of the earth […] was conceived during a trip to Iceland in October 2018. I was particularly taken by the volcanic activity that has shaped and continues to shape the country and was keen to analogously explore some of these processes through structuring sound in an orchestral composition that unfolds over a 31-minute timespan.
In lieu of landmasses and tectonic forces, I created two orchestras from the instrumentation of one large orchestra where the larger orchestral apportionment moves forward using almost entirely slow tempi across substantial spans of music that inhabit more confined harmonic fields, creating structures akin to sonic monoliths and by contrast, the mercurial smaller second orchestral apportionment moving forward using much faster tempi across connected shorter spans of music with less confined harmonic invention. These orchestral apportionments and their contrasting characteristics are defined beyond mere tempo differentiation, they are two separate pieces thrown together where the larger apportionment is a recontextualisation of an extant orchestral composition, The North Sound (2005/14) onto which is superimposed the newly assembled smaller orchestral piece to amalgamate one seamless body of new sound. It is the movement — the friction and attrition — between these two orchestras, these two masses of sound and the grinding together of their contrasting musical characters and especially the multiple polytemporal relationships between these materials and their component instrumental strata moving independently at simultaneously different speeds that in my mind correspond to the action and huge forces of tectonic plates colliding to throw up mountains and cause earthquakes, volcanoes and eruptions to occur over millennia, but here, transformed into features and events within a compositional landscape.
Emphasising these geological phenomena, the title for the piece was extracted from the passage: “and at the same time a powerful flame came out of the earth, huge and terrifying. It was so powerful and terribly great that it melted cliffs and boulders. From the flames came steam and smoke”, featuring verse 30 from the book Van Yƒlandt (On Iceland) by Göris Peers, a 16th-Century German traveller who wrote Van Yƒlandt as a poem about his experience and travels around Iceland. This text sums up the awe and magnificence of the landscape and natural process that formed it, processes I hope are reflected, in part, in the architecture and drama of this composition.
1) This work is unconducted.
2) There is no score. All notated material is within each performer’s part.
3) It is anticipated that the orchestra will be positioned in a conventional manner but the nature of the music and performance also lends itself to new spatial configurations, should these be appropriate.
4) All instrumentalists play independently of each other. The composer treats each performer as a uniquely independent voice.
5) Music is cued only at the start when all stopwatches are loosely synchronised. There are no other points of ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the instrumentalists.
6) Whilst the relationship of each instrument is somewhat flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and variability. To this end, it is vital that metronome markings and timecode are adhered to as accurately as possible throughout the performance.
The Score And Parts:
There is no score for this piece. All musical material and instruction is fully notated within each player’s individual parts. Difficulties associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real-time are considerable, as each instrumental voice is delivered through independent tempi. Due to this, the detail of vertical alignments and harmonic relationships will contextually change from one rehearsal and performance to another. A vertically aligned, standard score would attempt to fix these relationships on the page in such a way as to unrealistically represent the inherent flexibility and flux of performance outcomes, rendering what is represented and fixed in the score inaccurate. The composer anticipates a range of approaches that will contribute to a somewhat flexible performance. This is desirable and anticipated. Consequently, each performance will yield somewhat different results through its interplays, gestural and harmonic contexts and outcomes. Adherence to timecode ensures that the architecture of the piece remains intact but the on-going interpretation of tempi and timecode creates contextual changes to the alignment of musical detail between all the parts. As such, there is no definitive performance; the music has to be performed or experienced to be ‘known’.
Timecode is not used to imply the use of any kind of click-track in performance or to be seen as a straitjacket to flexible performance within the orchestra and timecode framework. However, players are required to use individual mobile phone stopwatches during the performance to help structure timings, prevent long-term tempo-drift and delivery of their material to achieve an outcome that most closely matches the composer’s structural intention. Continual reference to the timecode embedded in each part when read in reference to the stopwatch is particularly useful after longer pauses or where tempo has slipped due to playing under or over the metronome markings, enabling the performer to compensate by playing a little faster or slower to ‘catch up’ or extend or cut short pauses and rests as necessary to remain broadly on track with the timecode throughout the piece. It is important to start and also complete phrases within and as close to timecode parameters as possible. Please adjust your playing speeds continually to align with the timecode. Players synchronise their stop-watches/timing devises at 0’0”. The 0’16” timecode represents rehearsal mark 1 in all the parts and the start of the piece. I recommend a nominated member of the orchestra ‘conducts in’ the synchronisation of stopwatches at 0.0”, enabling a synchronised stopwatch start on beat 1 of bar 1. The more closely all stopwatches are synchronised, the more focused the musical structure and delivery of the piece will be. In effect, the 16 seconds between 0.0” and rehearsal mark 1 and 0.16” at rehearsal mark 2 represents a countdown into the start of the piece for all players whether playing material or silent at that time.
Note: Excluding rehearsal marks 1 and 2, rehearsal marks within individual parts do not correspond to each other across the orchestra in any way; they are used as a visual aid to clearly indicate tempo changes within respective parts. Collective reference points can only be found through timecode (see below).
Timecode has been added to each instrumental part for two further purposes:
1. To help gauge the overall duration of each part during personal practice thereby enabling the performer to acquire a good ‘feel’ for the various tempi and overall duration of the material when playing within the temporally varied ensemble texture.
2. To serve as a collective reference point in any area of the piece during rehearsals.
Mobile Phone Instructions:
1. If using stopwatches or timers on mobile phones, be sure to turn off all sounds (put the phone on silent) and place the device onto ‘aeroplane’ or ‘flight safe’ mode to prevent incoming calls or notifications and banners obscuring the home screen where the stopwatch will be running.
2. Similarly, turn off the lock screen function to prevent the screen from shutting down after a given duration as it is essential for the stopwatch to be visible throughout the duration of the performance. It is also essential, if using electronic mobile devices, to ensure that the battery is appropriately charged to meet the demands of rehearsals and/or performance.
Personal practice is undertaken as usual. Once the player has command of the musical material, continued practice with the stopwatch and timecode will ensure familiarity playing as closely as possible to timecode in preparation for effective delivery and combination with other multi-tempi musical strata in performance.
All dynamics are expressed as absolute values, meaning any range between pppp and ffff is notated to represent the quietest and loudest sounds possible as produced by that particular instrument. There is no consideration for relative dynamics. The composer has balanced the absolute dynamics of the piece being mindful of the overall balance in performance.
Each player is responsible for shaping their performance and being both a soloist and part of the orchestral sound-world. It is important to shape your performance by observing the full dramatic potential of the dynamics of your part and listening to what others are doing, finding the aural connections, of which there are many, and playing into these, not in a forced way, but as a mindful act of communication across the orchestra.
Timecode-supported Polytemporal Music:
My current interests in composition involve creating fluid music that simultaneously brings together multiple, fully notated lines of material that operate in different, unrelated tempi, where notated material is fixed against part-embedded timecode read in conjunction with ensemble/orchestra-wide loosely synchronised mobile phone stopwatches that enable performers to reference their relative notational positions to their timeline positions in the music during performance. This timecode-support provides a temporal framework that helps players maintain high degrees of structural and architectural cohesion despite the polytemporal, unsynchronised nature of the music. This polytemporal compositional approach explores the relationships between composer control (through notational signification – the instructions, signs and symbols on the page) and performer flexibility through mediation (how that notational signification is interpreted and especially how tempo indicators are mediated by players attempting to render specific speeds as indicated through precise tempo instructions). It is the flexible nature of the tension between composer control and player flexibility that produces flux, that is, a range of unpredictable (indeterminate) sonic outcomes brought about through the ever-changing contextual relationships of the material simultaneously mediated by multiple musicians. Resulting performances are never identical due to the shifts in these material contextual relationships – the flux produced – but do yield similar and recognisable versions of the original compositional model through the effective management of flux when using the temporal framework provided by timecode. This flexibility produces performances that are always sympathetic and acceptable renditions of my compositional model – my blueprint – to deliver dense, complex, polytemporal musical structures. With no unifying pulse or beat and with each player following their own temporal trajectory, there is no need for a conductor. Each player, by reading the timecode in their parts in conjunction with their stopwatches, is responsible for their own pulse. They are their own conductor. As there is no universal pulse-synchronisation there is no synchronised score produced for timecode-supported pieces. The flexible relationships between all instrumental parts cannot be usefully represented in a fixed and synchronised score format. Consequently, music is performed through parts alone. Therefore, timecode-supported polytemporal music for orchestra is conductor-less and scoreless with each musician performing in simultaneously independent tempi from parts alone. This compositional and performance method offers new possibilities in writing and performing multi-tempi music by balancing composer control and player mediation to support structural coherence and flexible performance outcomes in through-composed orchestral music using managed flux to create complex sonic relationships.