[…] 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.’*
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 nature and relationship of sounds elicited through the performance of […] which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud […] may be deemed to verge on the extreme, overwhelming the ear with too much information across uncomfortably long periods. This condition is intentional: during phases of maximum polyphonic density where all 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 materials. This pattern of establishing phases of extreme polyphonic and temporal density followed by phases of comparatively sparse material stratification marks the cyclic journey — the narrative — obsessively undertaken several times within the piece’s 21-minute duration, between perceptual obfuscation and perceptual clarity that constitutes perhaps the most significant structural feature of the piece. Underpinning and driving this narrative is an often manic, relentless forward momentum that like a moth inexorably drawn to a flame, burns itself out in the composition’s final moments where all sound returns to the silence from which it emerged.
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.
*From 14 definitions of what makes a classic in Italo Calvino’s Why Read the Classics? (Penguin Modern Classics 2009) op.6.
©Marc Yeats June 2019
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:
1) This piece is unconducted.
2) There is no score. All notated material is within each performer’s part.
3) It is anticipated that the orchestra will be positioned in a conventional manner, but the nature of the music and performance also lends itself to new spatial configurations, should these be appropriate.
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 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 orchestral work. All musical material and instruction are 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 straitjacket 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 0’16” timecode represents rehearsal mark 1 in all the parts and the start of the piece. I recommend a nominated member of the orchestra ‘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 16 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 mark 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 this 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 orchestral 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 orchestra.