The Shape Distance  (2013)
the shape distance are a series of (initially) seven pieces constructed somewhat akin to ‘Russian Dolls’ in that each contains the same or similar core material that is ‘enclosed’ by other layers of material. The core music is represented by two solo pieces that although composed in isolation contain strongly related material. the shape distance  is for two flutes.
the shape distance  flute 1 / clarinet
the shape distance  flute 1 / clarinet / piano
the shape distance  flute 1 / clarinets 1 + 2 / viola / harp / piano
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2 / harp
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / *percussion (1)
the shape distance  flute 1 / clarinet / harp / *percussion (1)
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / harp / piano / *percussion (1)
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2
the shape distance  harp / piano
the shape distance  Clarinet / viola / harp
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2 / Clarinet / viola / 2 harps
the shape distance  flutes 1 + 2 / Clarinets 1 + 2 / Violas 1 + 2 / harp / *percussion (1)
*Percussion set (1 player):
5 differently pitched temple blocks ranging from high to low
4 differently pitched suspended cymbals ranging from high to low
1 timpani drum 29″-28″
1 large, deep, resonant bass drum
2 differently pitched suspended tam-tams
all works circa 12 -14 minutes in duration.
The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with 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 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.
Instructions to players: to begin where indicated and play until their material is finished or to bring their music to a close when other players indicate they have come to an end of their material. Each piece has slightly different instructions in this regard.
Compositional material is [largely] 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 [through the simultaneous bringing together of these individual parts] 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 these pieces; difficulties and variables associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real-time are considerable. Each performance will yield different results, interplays, gestural and harmonic references and outcomes. As a result, the material contained within the pieces can only be read via the instrumental parts. Consequently, there is no definitive performance of these pieces.
Music in the shape distance can only be realised through performance [as opposed to comprehended by reading through a score; this is the nature of the music – it has to be experienced to be ‘known’.
A note about the title:
‘The shape distance is part of ‘the shape context’ and is intended to be a way of describing shapes that allows for measuring shape similarity and the recovering of point correspondences. The basic idea is to pick n points on the contours of a shape. For each point pi on the shape, consider the n − 1 vectors obtained by connecting pi to all other points. The set of all these vectors is a rich description of the shape localized at that point but is far too detailed. The key idea is that the distribution over relative positions is a robust, compact, and highly discriminative descriptor.’
This process of describing shapes through their similarities resonated with my ambition in these pieces, especially regarding the recognition of shapes [this time shape and gestural recognition in sound rather than physical objects] within a complex, multifaceted fabric of un-synchronous sounds, believing that it is the recognition of these elements that brings both context, excitement and meaning to the music.