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Initial thoughts

My first thought is to look to the instruments for inspiration about how to approach the piece. The ensemble is by volunteer so from year-to-year we never know what we have to work with, but this year's line-up is more bizarre than normal.

  • 3 flutes 
  • 2 clarinets (I'm hoping one can double bass-clarinet)  
  • saxophone (probably alto but I'm hoping tenor also) 
  • trumpet, cornet, euphonium
  • percussion 
  • piano
  • classical guitar
  • cello

Clearly I can't approach this with classical orchestral 'choirs' in mind; there's no string group, and a real lack of bass instruments across the board. My instinct is to divide the piece into solos, with the rest of the ensemble supporting in different ways as a group. Here's my first attempt at thinking through how to approach the ensemble.

  • piano & guitar duet.
    • I was inspired by Linda Catlin Smith's Drifter for guitar and piano. In her piece the two instruments play in a broken unison, constantly drifting in and out of time (and pitch) with each other. I liked the idea of the drifting, and also that the piano has to play extremely quietly to balance the acoustic guitar. See later post for details.
  • cello solo that will probably use techniques from my other recent string works (see Careful Plaiting of Weak Ties) focussing on string preparations that create inharmonic multiphonics. 
  • saxophone solo, probably using multiphonics: see there are neither wholes nor parts 
  • Maybe a percussion solo focussing on drawing inharmonic partials out of metal pipes, something like my Resonant Paths
For all of these solos I'll try to use similar material, or common pitches at least to connect things. The rest of the ensemble will be used during the solos as support (adding weight to particular points/lines/gestures, sustaining certain pitches etc.) and outside the solos as a mass of sound. I have a sound-image in mind of the flutes tumbling over each other, who knows where that will go...

It's also worth saying that I don't know most of the players, so I'll have to arrange a lot of time to work with them to write to their strengths. Most of my most important formative composition experiences came from working with musician friends, it's imperative to be able to work with players to really get inside the instruments.


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cello solo v1

Cello solo v1 The cello solo will use my prepared cello: not a million miles from a prepared piano as mentioned in previous blog post. The preparations make pitch quite indeterminate, so rather than generate a stream of pitches (like for the guitar/piano) what I wanted to generate was essentially a tablature score for the cellist to create a stream of actions that would limit the indeterminate pitches in different ways to create loose patterns. Tablature notation differs from standard notation be being more about telling the player what do (what actions to carry out, where to put fingers etc.) rather than what sound/note to make. It can be especially useful in situations where the specific pitch result is indeterminate so instead the notation deals with timing, positions etc. See Aaron Cassidy's scores and writings on this as a good example. Below is a page of his solo for any bowed-string instrument, with staves for: (top) fingerings and bowing on the four strings; (middle) fing…

About the project

I'm a composer and lecturer at the University of Leeds, UK. As part of our undergraduate composition teaching we introduce various flexible generative techniques, and an expectation that students write a commentary that outlines their compositional process. To give the students another example of how this can be done, I've decided to compose a piece [jump to final piece] for the student new-music ensemble that explores several of these techniques; to augment existing examples, and give a more first-person account of using them. This blog follows my process as I compose using some techniques that I've taught often but wouldn't normally used myself: see here for examples of what I do usually.

[Impatient? go straight to the finished score, or watch the video]

Here's what I begin with:
the ensemble is unusual to say the least, but I like a challenge!3 fl, 2 cl,  sax, tpt, cornet, euphonium, perc, piano, guitar, celloRehearsals begin in February 2018 with performance in…

piano & guitar 3 - orchestration

[general apologies for the images in this post, which don't always link easily to the text. My parameter names kept changing over the few days spent composing this, which looks confusing now because the parameter names (descriptors) aren't always the same.]
Having generated the phrases for the guitar and piano, I need to decide how this 5-mins of duet will relate to the rest of the ensemble. I decided to use the Xenakis rotating-cubes technique to generate a phrase-by phrase orchestration behaviour. Crucially, this only defines the type and size of orchestration, not the specifics: I could have generated very specific limitations on instruments etc but wanted to keep this free to save time really, and allow a more intuitive shaping of that aspect. I also wanted to avoid this being too 'blocky' and only mirroring the phrasing of the duet, so I allowed for some orchestrations to reach forward or backwards into neighbouring phrases. My first thoughts on this is that I ne…