when time is broke (2019)

Marc Yeats - Composer

when time is broke (2019)

This is a timecode-supported polytemporal ensemble piece.

Dedicated to my friend, Lindsay Edkins.


Clarinet in B flat
Bass Clarinet in B flat
Trumpet in C
Percussion (1 player)*
Double bass

*Percussion: Vibraphone, Timpani (2 kettles 29-28 inches and 22-20 inches), large, resonant Bass Drum.

Duration: 13.50

Program note:

Ha, ha, keep time! How sour sweet music is
When time is broke, and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men’s lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To check time broke in a disordered string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.

(William Shakespeare: Richard II, 5.5.42-9)

when time is broke is a polytemporal composition. This means that each instrument, strand or layer, is performed with its own independent temporal identity resulting in players performing their material at different speeds to one another. Such polytemporal combinations may produce very dense and complex sonic outcomes, outcomes that will possibly stretch what can be perceived audibly to confound and overwhelm the senses at times. Such extremes are intentional. They are, however, contrasted with sections of less dense and extreme material combinations and it is the journey between these contrasting states that generate the architecture and narrative of the piece.

Unusually for an ensemble of this size, the unfolding of the composition, its structure, narrative and the players themselves are not managed by a conductor. There is no conductor. The piece is designed to be managed by the players themselves using only loosely synchronised personal mobile phone stopwatches read in conjunction with timecode expressed as minutes and seconds sequentially printed throughout each instrumental part to mark time above every bar. Timecode provides a framework that flexibly holds instrumentalists and structure together, enabling players’ to know where they are and exactly what they should be doing at any given point in the composition regardless of the independence of their material or the different speeds they are performing it at. You could think of each player as being their own independent conductor. Such an approach means the composer can utilise this player independence to create compositions of any scale that simultaneously combine and control all manner of material and speeds of musical execution, producing renditions that though unique, always result in iterative, recognisable self-similar variants of each other.

©Marc Yeats. December 2019

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