observation 1.7.5 (2015)
Trio for open-holed or kingma system quartertone alto flute, bassoon and violin
Written for Rarescale and dedicated to Charles Morgan Lines | duration circa 7 minutes
Composer-in-Residence to the Observatory: 4 site-specifically inspired string quartets across four residency locations in two years:
As a composer and painter, I have a deeply held interest in the psychological and perceptual/ emotional/intuitive associations between these two media and how ideas can be transacted one to the other. As well as creating four new string quartets I will also keep a video diary of the residency and creative experience, make sketches and paintings [on location] of the built and natural landscape features to explore transduction between the physical environment and sound construction transforming [intuitively] visual ideas into notation – landscape into sound. More here: http://marc-yeats.co.uk/blog/composer-in-residence-to-the-observatory-1a-winchester-science-centre/
Carla Rees, Artistic Director of Rarescale and low flute specialist talks candidly about the challenges and rewards of tackling my asynchronous compositions as she prepares for the premiere of observation 1.7.5 at the Forge, Camden, London 10th. February. More on Carla’s Blog, here.
‘I first met Marc through a mutual friend before the dawn of time (well, it feels like it – I was an undergrad) when he was living on the Isle of Skye. Since then he’s moved south and enjoys a busy and successful career. Marc is a self-taught composer, who has developed a distinctive style, influenced by complexity and abstract art (he’s also a talented artist). I’ve played a lot of his music over the years, and I’ve enjoyed watching how his style has changed and developed.
With Marc’s music, there’s always an element of challenge. This piece, which was written specifically for this concert is no exception, and there are all sorts of challenges flying all over the place. First, there are the notes. Marc’s language is microtonal and there’s nothing I enjoy more than putting my Kingma system instruments through their paces, so this sort of challenge is fun! Then there are the tempos. This is actually one of the hardest parts of this piece, as there are sudden tempo changes which don’t always relate to clear metric modulations and it’s important to hit the speeds exactly right. I’ve been learning to do this through a lot of individual metronome work on each section, nd working on all the sections that have the same tempo in a group, so that the ‘feel’ of the music sticks in my mind.
Understanding the music is another challenge with repertoire like this. Observation 1.7.5 is one of Marc’s asynchronous pieces, which is a fascinating approach to complexity. The idea is that the players (in this case, alto flute, bassoon and violin) begin together, but play independently; there is no score, we’re all at different tempos and the bar number/rehearsal marks don’t line up either. That means from a rehearsal point of view that we have to start at the beginning, and go, and hope that we finish at roughly the same time. There are, however, some safety nets built in. Each player follows a stopwatch, and timings are given throughout the piece so that we can stay on track. There are also a few moments with rests, so if anyone gets ahead or behind, there’s space to adjust. I have to admit to being a bit sceptical when I first worked on a piece written in this style (The Moon Upright) – but the end result was actually quite fascinating and no less convincing than if the piece had been written in a more conventional way. This approach to composition creates complex textures in a simpler way than notating everything in full, especially when one of the ideas of complexity is the sense of ‘struggle’ to play all of the notes; with Marc’s way, the battle is a personal, individual one, with each of us working against the clock on our own parts, but at the same time as each other. There are variations in every performance, and often many surprises (even for the performers), but the overall sound is distinct to this piece. The more I play it, the more I notice patterns, for example, certain techniques that reappear, or little rhythmic or melodic motifs which keep coming back. There are some moments of elegance and poise, and even some poetry and these details are the sorts of things that may become clearer to an audience through multiple hearings. I hope, then, that we’ll get to play this again some time!’
“Marc’s intention is to compose new, experimental, string quartets inspired by the various residency locations is an excellent fit with the ethos of the project and will enhance both its scope and impact as a result of his aim to focus on all four Observatory sites across the two-year period of the project, bringing a new perspective to the single site focus of the other appointed artists-in-residence. As an artist with an established track record in musical composition, Marc is bringing a new element to the project in an artform that is not represented in the artists appointed to date. Year One of the project will engage with the residencies in the Observatory at Winchester Science Centre and Lymington/Keyhaven, Hampshire”.
The opportunity to look in, look out, up, down and around; to explore the work of other artists in residence and use these observations, themes, sounds and discoveries to build my own string quartet compositions, paintings and sketches, site-specifically informed, is a fantastic new opportunity to build work in relation to the Observatory, the land and what it inspires. The four Observatory quartets will be freestanding, independent works forming a much larger-scale composition reflecting my experiences across all four residency locations.
My role as Composer-in-Residence is supported by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts, SPUD and DIVAcontemporary.
Asynchronous composition – notes:
The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only with instruments starting at the same time. There is no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the instrumentalists. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is 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 time code are adhered to as accurately as possible although the composer appreciates that it is the various interpretations and practicalities inherent in the realisation of tempi that contribute to the richly unique nature and interplay of each performance.
Compositional material is derived from a series of distant variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. All the instrumental roles are written to a high degree of virtuosity and most contain extended techniques and quarter-tones. The music itself forms dense, highly complex and constantly changing relationships that are frequently wild and sometimes beautiful.
The score and parts
I have not produced a score for observation 1.7.5; difficulties and variables associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real time are considerable. Each performance will yield somewhat different results, interplays, gestural and harmonic references and outcomes. As a result, the material contained within the piece can only be read via the instrumental parts. Consequently, there is no definitive performance of the piece. observation 1.7.5 can only be realised through performance [as opposed to comprehend by reading through a score]; this is the nature of the music – it has to be experienced to be ‘known’.
circa 7 minutes in duration.
Marc Yeats – December 2015