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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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bb.1–33 Opening Full ensemble contrasts material presented in two forms; static chords (reeds/brass/perc/cello), and falling “scales” (flutes/pno/gtr). technique: Magic square, randomness.
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The pitches for both are derived from the magic square. The chords are most straightforward, they simply read the horizontals of the square as 6-note chords. The piece starts with the uppermost vertical (the main material + high G), and works its way down.