the unimportance of events (2021)

Marc Yeats - Composer

the unimportance of events (2021)

Version for 22-players

This is a timecode-supported polytemporal chamber orchestra piece.


  • alto flute/flute
  • oboe
  • clarinet in B flat
  • bassoon
  • horns in F 1 and 2
  • Trumpets in C 1 and 2
  • Tenor trombones 1 and 2
  • Piano
  • Percussion (1)
  • violin solo
  • string quartet 1
  • string quartet 2
  • double bass

Composed for the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of Tectonics Glasgow 2021

Recorded in City Halls, Glasgow on the 28th May 2021

Want to know more about timecode-supported polytemporal music? Watch this video:

Programme note:

‘the unimportance of events (2021)’ for 22-players uses a newly developed polytemporal composition and performance approach called timecode-supported polytemporal composition. Here, each player is treated as a soloist performing in their own simultaneous independent speed, enjoying unique temporal, expressive and interpretive freedoms.

No conductor is used to guide and shape the performance and the music is not written in a score. It is, however, performed from detailed, virtuosic, through-composed, fully notated instrumental parts structurally held together using timecode (minutes and seconds printed above every bar in all instrumental parts that mark the passage of time throughout the piece) that are read in conjunction with the rolling timecode displayed on each players’ mobile phone stopwatch. These stopwatches are loosely synchronised at the start of a performance from which point players mediate their performances so that both timecodes in players’ parts and stopwatches approximately match up when playing. This approach incorporates a degree of flexibility between players that enables production of complex and intricate polytemporal compositions on a vast scale, creating near-determinate renditions that though very similar, will never be precisely the same twice.

Sonically, sound-textures may at times overwhelm the ear. This is intentional. During phases of maximum polyphonic density where all instrumental parts are performed at simultaneously different speeds, numerous layers of material compete for dominance, generating a sustained, intricate, colouristic, complex and frenzied state that may prove perceptually challenging to disentangle.

To prevent a descent into sonic chaos and establish dramatic impact between materials, extremes of polytemporal density are contrasted with less dense and less chaotic sounding content. The movement between these two states — between perceptual obfuscation and clarity — mark the journey constituting the composition’s narrative and structure, a narrative driven forward by a relentless momentum that like a moth inexorably drawn to a flame, only burns itself out in the composition’s final moments where all sounds return to the silence from which they emerged.

‘the unimportance of events’ for 22-players uses a new polytemporal composition and performance approach called timecode-supported polytemporal music. Using this approach, each player is treated as a soloist performing in their own simultaneous independent speed, enjoying unique temporal, expressive and interpretive freedoms. No conductor is used to hold the performance together and the music is not written in a score. It is, however, performed from through-composed, fully notated instrumental parts. It uses a system of organisation that holds instrumentalists and structure together using timecode (minutes and seconds printed above every bar in all instrumental parts that mark the passage of time throughout the piece) read in conjunction with the rolling timecode displayed on each players’ loosely synchronised mobile phone stopwatch. Players mediate their performances so that both timecodes approximately match up when playing to create renditions that though similar, will never be exactly the same twice.

Performance instructions:

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 the timecode ensures that the architecture of the piece remains intact but the ongoing 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).

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.