Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thoughts on Mirror Universes, etc.

Next Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Chamber Cartel is premiering the complete Mirror Universes by yours truly. Parts 2 and 6 have been performed by DMC Duo and Terminus Ensemble, respectively (the same performers are playing those parts again under the guise of Chamber Cartel - shhh!). I'm excited to witness the entire cycle, which will be presented as a continuous experience, with each movement overlapping slightly. Also on the program is Why Patterns? by one of my favorite composers, Morton Feldman.

Mirror Universes is a series of six duets for percussion and melodic instrument. In each, the duo reads from the same score, which consists of short ideas scattered over two pages. The players proceed independently, so each idea will end up being played twice. The musical ideas attempt to highlight similarities between these dissimilar instruments. The instrumentation is as follows:

Mirror Universes 1 for viola and vibraphone
Mirror Universes 2 for clarinet and multi-percussion
Mirror Universes 3 for trombone and vibraphone
Mirror Universes 4 for saxophone and multipercussion
Mirror Universes 5 for guitar and multipercussion
Mirror Universes 6 for vibraphone and multipercussion

I wrote the first piece quickly for a now-disbanded duo, and wrote the second one for DMC Duo. After discussing it with Caleb Herron, I had the idea to write a few more. It's interesting to me that the remaining four were somewhat of a side project (written quickly during my first semester at UF), but represent a turning-point in my work that I was not aware of at the time.

Since I began composing 'for real' in 2004, I've gone through some rather distinct stages. The first featured an atonal pitch language and a concern with formal design (notably my exploration of poetic forms in Three Haiku and Tanka). The second stage, begun while studying in Belfast and continued while living in New Jersey, focused on indeterminacy in performance (good examples include Five Pieces for Laptop Quartet and Searching for Coincidences). I think the best way to characterize my current (third) stage is that I am focusing on simplicity and the materiality of instruments. I don't have recordings of these pieces to share yet, unfortunately!

The past two years I have been thinking very hard about what I value in music, which is primarily timbre, harmony, and the theatre of performance. So the Mirror Universes series ends up serving as a fascinating crossroads piece for me when I review my own work. In each of these pieces, the score directs players to mimic either the sounds or the method of playing the other instrument. In #1, the viola and vibraphone read the same score, but play a 9th apart, since the viola reads in alto clef and the vibraphone in treble. In #2, the clarinet plays multiphonics to emulate the inharmonic partials of gongs. In #3, the vibraphone plays short glissandi to reflect one of the most characteristic attributes of the trombone. There are many more examples (and surely many that I neglected to include in the scores themselves!).

In recent pieces I have continued this exploration of similarity/dissimilarity between instruments. Etude in Metal, written last spring, is a multipercussion solo in which the glockenspiel plays a central role, playing equal-tempered chords based upon the partials of a variety of gongs. Each gesture is connected to the last in some way. Interiors, written last fall, is for flute and guitar, based entirely on the harmonic series of the low E and D strings of the guitar. It explores harmonics on each instrument, particularly harmonics that are somewhat out of tune with others. Bascule, written this semester for marimba and cajón, attempts to bring the two players together not only by using instruments made of wood, but also by using slap mallets on the marimba to evoke the slapping of the cajón, and having the cajón's timbral contour mimic the pitch contour of the marimba.

So that's the kind of thing that is intriguing me right now in music. It seems that I change track every 3 years or so, so we'll see how my music looks in another 2 years-ish!