Conversational Geometry (2009)

Marc Yeats - Composer

Conversational Geometry (2009)

For tenor trombone, amplified acoustic guitar and piano. Dedicated to Dirk Amrein. Duration – 14:00.

Swiss Brazil Connection | Premiere performance of Conversational Geometry with Dirk Amrein, Posaune, Maurizio Grandinetti, Gitarrre, Jürg Henneberger, Klavier | Recorded by DRS2 Swiss Radio | Aufnahme Gare du Nord Basel, 17. Dezember 2010

As the title suggests, conversational Geometry is a conversation between three voices; guitar, trombone and piano. This conversation is sometimes delicate and at other times robust and confrontational presenting complex musical layers in constantly changing relationships. The piece is formed by bringing together the music from three other pieces of mine and ‘mashing’ them together. This process is not as arbitrary as it may sound; all the material brought together comes from pieces that stem originally from the same material, so the links are deeply embedded within them. These links become apparent after listening to the music several times as its complex interweaving of lines can (purposely) obscure these relationships rather like several people talking about the same topic at once but not actually talking to each other.

As explained in previous interviews:

“New works are also originated by recycling existing pieces of music through changing contexts and relationships, transforming this material into something quite new. Many of the acoustic pieces I write find their starting point from within other pieces of music I’ve already written.
I am fascinated by how altered contexts can radically redefine the way musical material feels and sounds. Transplanting different layers, voices or strands of music from one piece to another, altering tempi and dynamics, transposing, inverting, and then letting those strands sound out together; all of these methods fascinate me.
Like the music, my paintings are often produced in series, each painting is influenced by the former. Sometimes I will paint two or three pictures at the same time, each sharing the same starting point, layers and processes until something happens to make me want to separate them and explore them in different ways. In music, the recycling of material ensures that there is a ‘genetic’ connection between all the works – sometimes up to 15 individual pieces may be connected in this way. They are like sons and daughters, cousins, five times removed. With this ‘genetic’ material comes history, characteristics and content. In music, as with people, the way this genetic material is ‘lived out’ determines the character and make-up of the person or piece. This can lead to very individual outcomes.”

Yeats, Marc. 2009. “Performance note”. Conversational Geometry.

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Conversational Geometry and the Gentle Complexity of Marc Yeats

Sergio Augusto Cote Barco
April 2011

From the path of avant-garde movements, artistic proposals, various tools and techniques of all aesthetic expressions which have instigated the shift from post-modernism in the XX century to contemporaneity of XXI century, in music a conflict of conceptual links of actual creation persists and has exit since the eighties decade. This ideological conflict tends to be generalised in concepts of complexity and simplicity. In the first instance “one aims to achieve, within the piece, a complex interaction and different layers of processes which occur simultaneously between the elements of musical material” (Fox. n.d.) The second is found “designed in reaction to the processes of formalised composition and abstracts of avant-garde music in the second half of the XX century” (Fox. n.d.) in which the composer searches for a “rapprochement between the creative impulse and the musical result” (Murcia. 2011).

This century continues to be prolific in the surge of new proposals which, if they have been influenced by arguments made by the defenders of each of the aforementioned proposals, result in relations as eclectic solutions to the dilemma, which in turn result in a dynamic conversation between the two slopes applied to the different moments of an artistic expression. This is the case of Marc Yeats, a significant composer and visual contemporary British artist born in 1962. In his work, there is evidence of clear features of a complex approach. Even so, since his article Complexity; what’s the point? In which he confirms the influence of complexity and highlights a particular piece called Conversational Geometry, a series of reflections have been brought about regarding the dynamism which the author searches for in his piece which is linked to the complex methodology rather than a simple perception from the point of view of the spectator. Taking into account that previously stated, this paper aims to expose how the configuration of certain technical elements of Conversational Geometry manage to make a clear example of the aesthetic proposal made by Marc Yeats, a proposal which is denominated briefly in his writing as Gentle Complexity.

A first-time approximation to the piece should be from a textural point of view. It will thus stand out how this piece develops in a polyphonic way, in which the simultaneous musical gestures have equal importance. For this reason a continuous ambiguity is presented between the prioritisation of the materials and the roles of each instrument within the texturing, which allows the spectator to perceive different plains within the same discourse. This behaviour, in which the guitar, the trombone and the piano construct continuously different layers of the same or differing rhythmic, dynamic and timbre activity, allows for the possibility of a homophony only if the spectator decides to subjectively prioritise the different layers according to their own perception.

The objective is confirmed when the composer specifies that the order in the perception “is left to the perceptual abilities of the spectator to create their own order, their own simplicity against all the layers of activity which are presented to them” (Yeats. 2011). As a starting point, it should be taken into account, in general terms, that which the composer writes with regards to his interests within the art form. It is through this that he clarifies his “disinterest in the linearity and the order, and interest more so in the energies, densities, colours and textures” (Yeats. 2011).

Secondly, it is important to note how certain technical parameters exist which differentiate in a clear way the usual language of Complexity in the same Gentle Complexity which the composer proposes through this piece. One of these is evident in the notes for interpretation, which the composer added specifying “that the piece includes two types of approximation to interpretation and two forms of notation” (Yeats. 2009). The first type of approximation is a synchronised interpretation that separates the notation and the traditional ensemble process. Whilst in the second, it invites each player to carry out a precise interpretation without the need for an exact synchronisation of the ensemble (Yeats. 2009). The latter, involves another differentiating characteristic element of the piece with regards the usual Complexity as this presents a clearer and simpler scale in which elements of a certain controlled randomness come together subtly to delineate a exact formal proposal; a proposal which does not give cause for truly relevant variations of one interpretation to another. Within the same formal proposal there are relations between character and the development of the material between parts. These sections are also carefully defined by clear articulation points, which are reaffirmed by the conjunction and behaviour of the musical forces coming together in the following formal design:

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The connections and procedures of development are another distinctive factor of the piece. These processes depart form separate musical events of an easy recordation, which slowly but surely invade the texture of different layers and timbre whilst they morph their interval constitution, rhythmic and idiomatic construction throughout the piece. In relation to the form, the development is closely related, in a traditional perspective, to the definition of the different sections of the piece. However, the mutation of the musical events, which is subtle, brings certain ambiguity of layers to the proposed formal design. The following example shows evidence of how the mutation is presented in one of these musical events.
In this way, basic composition procedures are coming together within the proper texture of Complexity. Procedures which generate an easy perception of the piece in an organic way, whilst enriching a complex polyphonic texture in an incisive, primordial and constant technique, which aims to generate a true subjective perception from the point of view of each spectator. It is this way in which Marc Yeats generates a continuous dialogue through Conversational Geometry between Complexity and Simplicity, managing to do so by placing each of these concepts in different moments of the artistic experience. Whilst complexity forms part of the language of the musical writing, and the Simplicity “has more to do with a perceptual position and perspective than it does concept” (Yeats. 2011).


Fox, Christopher. “New Complexity”. The Grove Music Online. [Reference: 26th April, 2011]

Fox, Christopher. “Neue Einfachheit”. The Grove Music Online. [Reference: 26th April, 2011]

Murcia, Oscar. “Curso literatura y materiales de la música VIII (Literary course and materials of music)” Facultad de artes Pontifica Universidad Javeriana (Faculty of Arts, Javeriana University). Bogotá, 2011.