searching always for home (2020)
This is a timecode-supported polytemporal duo for violin and piano
Dedicated to Peter Sheppard Skaerved
There is no programmatic intention in what unfolds as sound in this piece: any or no relationship to the title and the sounding music is forged at the discretion of the composer, performer and listener. Despite this statement, there is an unfolding of material that manifests through contrasting sections of music to hopefully provide the listener with a compelling experience even without programmatic intent. It is the interplay between and within these sections that is the narrative content of the composition.
The title is taken from a poem of my own from a set of 27 poems written in November 2005. The poem is shown in full here:
We travel on each other’s love
Strange, wild adventures
The content found in searching always for home stems originally from two sources: first, the violin material self-borrowed and enhanced from the violin 1 part of the 2016 string quartet, observation 5; and second, the piano materials self-borrowed from (among other sources) the 2020 set of 15 pieces for piano titled Toy Box, itself composed from self-borrowed and transformed materials found in pneuma (March 2020) for solo contrabass recorder that was subsequently transformed in the solo piano piece Conrad’s Toye (April 2020), composed immediately before nearly all my poems are letters to you (May 2020) for solo harp. It is the material from nearly all my poems are letters to you that are transformed to constitute the Toy Box pieces which subsequently find their way into this work.
The violin and piano have a heterogeneous relationship. Each plays in simultaneously independent tempi from one another bringing together materials from different sources that though linked, are separated by a range of transformational processes. These two very different sounding instruments are not brought together to attempt any kind of blending of texture, sonority or material. Instead, the two instruments create a dialogue of differences, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes antagonistic and extreme, but always expressive, colourful and dynamic.
The writing for both instruments is virtuosic. Although the violin plays almost continually throughout the piece, the piano is only occasionally present, delivering its material in bursts of varying length and energy. This intermittent piano material emphasises the heterogeneous nature of the instrument’s relationships but also amplifies the dramatic condition of their encounters.
There are two iterations of the piece titled searching always for home, both of which were created at the same time: the first is this duo piece for violin and piano; the second, a solo violin version that is, for all intent and purposes, the solo material from the duo slightly adapted to become a substantial solo work in its own right.
I am always fascinated how the combination of musical materials with other content, in this case, the solo material when presented as a duo with piano, affects how these materials interact in time, constantly changing the vertical, harmonic and rhythmic relationships of the combined elements to alter how we perceive identical material in different contexts. These contextual changes can radically alter our perception of the sounding music.
Marc Yeats – June 2020
Interested to know more about timecode-supported polytemporal music and how it works? Take a look at this video:
1) This work is unconducted.
2) There is no score. All notated material is within each performer’s part.
3) The ensemble may be positioned in a conventional manner or a spatial configuration.
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: Timecode is not used to imply the use of any kind of click-track in performance or to be seen as a straightjacket 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 devices at 0’0”. The 0’08” timecode represents rehearsal mark 1 in all the parts and the start of the piece. I recommend a nominated member of the ensemble ‘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 8 seconds between 0.0” and rehearsal mark 1 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, 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 get 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:
• If using stopwatches or timers on mobile phones, be sure to turn off all sounds (put the phone on silent) and place the device into ‘aeroplane’ or ‘flight safe’ mode to prevent incoming calls or notifications and banners obscuring the home screen where the stopwatch will be running.
• 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.
Practice regime: 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.
Dynamics: 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 outcome in performance.
Rehearsals: Each player is responsible for shaping their performance and being both a soloist and part of the ensemble 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 ensemble.