[…] which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud […] (2019)
For Chamber Orchestra
Dedicated to my dear friends, Stephen Davismoon and Lauryna Sableviciute
This is a timecode-supported polytemporal chamber orchestra piece.
‘8. A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.’*
*From 14 definitions of what makes a classic in Italo Calvino’s Why Read the Classics? (Penguin Modern Classics 2009) op.6.
The term ‘pulviscular cloud’, in this case, transformed in my imagination into a pulviscular cloud of sound — of sonic dust — full of particles that are in a state of constant motion and flux, resonated with my concept of the sonic flux that coalesces during the performance of […] which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud […] into forms that constitute the structure and content of this music.
At times, the sound-textures in […] which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud […] verge on the extreme. These extremes and their capacity to overwhelm the ear are intentional: during phases of maximum polyphonic density where all or a great many instrumental parts are performed at simultaneously different speeds (polytemporal performance), the numerous layers of independent, sometimes heterogeneous materials compete with one another for dominance, generating a sustained, intricate, complex and frenzied state throughout several phases of the composition 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 — obsessively undertaken several times within the piece’s 20-minute duration, mark the cyclic journies that constitute the composition’s narrative and structure, a narrative driven forward by an often 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.
To help distinguish the multiple polytemporal stratifications of this sonic landscape, the orchestra is apportioned into six spatially positioned ensemble groups located around the performance area. Each of these groups comprises of different instrumental arrays within which every player uses independent simultaneous tempi and where each group is a colouristically distinct ensemble with no exact temporal relationship to any other. The intention is for the audience to experience the music from among these groups with each listener gaining a uniquely different aural perspective.
Unusual in temporally complex music of this type, narrative and structure are maintained without a conductor. The players themselves are responsible for the unfolding of the piece using only timecode represented as minutes and seconds above each bar in their parts indicating duration and time passing, read in conjunction with loosely synchronised individual mobile phone stopwatches showing clock-time passing with the ambition of roughly synchronising timecode and digital clock-time in performance. However, this unfolding does not produce exactly repeatable performance outcomes. The balance between the composer’s intention to control structure, dynamics and expression, for example, through notational instruction, set against the idiosyncrasies and flexibility of player mediation of that notation using timecode and stopwatches to produce what is actually heard, results in each performance being uniquely different in the vertical alignment of its detail. It is the uncertainty around how the details of this balance manifest in performance that excites me. Nevertheless, together and mediated with care, timecode and stopwatches provide the players with a temporal framework for coordination and structural organisation that no matter how simultaneously different the speeds and character of their materials, ensures dynamic, self-similar, near-determinate outcomes of the piece.
This is music of extremes, of hyper-activity, hyper-density, quicksilver colouristic fluctuations, of perceptually complex sound combinations articulated through demanding, virtuosic instrumental part-writing that requires great technical facility, expressive insight and emotional stamina from performers that mediate its notation and instantiate its sound. Here, performance outcomes are a gamble — a balance — between an aspiration to control outcomes through specific notation and how players mediate notation to produce what is actually heard. It is the uncertainty around how this balance will manifest as sound in performance and the sonic flux these uncertainties produce that excites me. I would perhaps suggest to listeners that they surrender to the music’s visceral energy, its life force, textural diversity and intricate, ever-changing sonic relationships; ultimately, to surrender to its coruscating affect without any need to comprehend what it is beyond a pageant of entangled sound journeying through time to coalesce as music.
The culmination of spatialization, polytemporal performance and heterogeneous materials make this a music of extremes, of hyper-activity, hyper-density, quicksilver colouristic fluctuations, of perceptually complex sound combinations articulated through demanding, virtuosic instrumental part-writing that requires great technical facility, expressive insight and emotional stamina from performers when mediating its notation and instantiating its sound.
For audiences, I suggest listeners surrender to the music’s spatialized visceral energy, its life force, textural stratification and intricate, ever-changing sonic relationships — to its coruscating effect — as it physically surrounds them, heading for that point in the landscape (a point of each individual’s choosing), without any need to comprehend what the music ‘is’ or ‘means’ beyond a pageant of entangled sound journeying through time to coalesce as music.
Instrumentation: 3 Flutes, Eb Clarinet, 2 Bb Clarinets, 3 Oboes, 2 doubling Cor Anglais 2 Trumpets in Bb, Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone, Piano, Harp, Percussion (1 player)* STRINGS: 7, 5, 5, 6, 2 41 players spatially organised as:
Group 1: Clarinet in Eb, Flute 3, Violin, Violoncello, Guitar, Piano and Percussion (1)* *Marimba [5 octaves]; Deep, resonant bass drum; 4 Tom-toms ranging from low to high; large, deep Tam-tam; 4 differently pitched resonant wooden objects ranging from low to high (non-specific drums, boxes, barrels, bowls, planks, logs etc.) or 4 differently pitched temple/woodblocks ranging from low to high; 5 differently pitched resonant metal objects (boxes, tubing, saucepans, plates etc.) ranging from low to high; High-Hat; Gong (resonant – specific or non-specific pitch); Metal Wind Chimes (can be unorthodox ‘home-made’ cutlery jangles or such like to create the effect of resonant metal wind chimes).
Group 2: Oboe 1, Clarinet 1, Clarinet 2, Violin solo, String Quartet
Group 3: 4 Violin 1, 4 Violin 2, 4 Viola, 4 Violoncello and 2 Double Basses
Group 4: Flute 1, Flute 2
Group 5: Two Trumpets in Bb, Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone
Group 6: Oboe 2 doubling Cor Anglais, Oboe 3, Harp
Further performance note for string players in group 3:
Group 3 comprises a string ensemble of 4, 4, 4, 4, 2 players. Some parts, for example, violin 1a and 1b, 1c and 1d; violin 2a and 2b, 2c and 2d; viola a and b, c and d; and violoncello a and b, c and d are duplicates. Although these string pairs share the same material, there should be no attempt to synchronise the parts precisely in performance. Each string player is treated as an individual and is encouraged to mediate their performances using timecode as described in the performance notes without synchronous reference to the other players. This approach leads to the desired variable heterophonic effect when similar materials are rendered simultaneously, enriching the shared materials through slight variances of their timing, rhythmic, dynamic and expressive components.
String players may be positioned as one body with violins 1, violins 2 etc., seated together in the usual way or the players may be seated in the Group 1 area arranged in four-string quartet formations (violin 1a, 2a, viola a, violoncello a, for string quartet 1; violin 2a, 2b, viola b, and violoncello b, for string quartet 2 and so on through quartets 3 and 4). The double basses can be positioned behind the quartets as convenient and are similarly treated as independent players.
Want to know more about timecode-supported polytemporal music? Watch this video:
©Marc Yeats June 2019