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Sax & cymbals duet

The second section (bars 34–71 of the finished score v1) of the piece is an improvised duet for tenor saxophone and bowed cymbals. I've already referred to the ensemble part for this section, see here for an explanation of the system used to generate the asynchronous ensemble part from the magic square.

The duet uses exclusively multiphonics on both instruments. "Multiphonics" are not chords (collections of single notes played simultaneously on different vibrating objects), rather they are multiple-sounds, metastable vibrations where more than one pitch is vibrating simultaneously on the same object so they interfere with each other to form complex timbres of difference tones. Playing multiphonics requires practicing a specific skill to learning to balance the multiple-pitches. For saxophone, the tonal flexibility of the usual monophonic (single pitch) technique is sacrificed because the multiphonic will only stay balanced with a very specific mix of embouchure-position, breath-pressure, etc: here's some examples in a jazz context. The cymbal is the opposite because we go from a noise-sound—which is multi-multi-multi-phonic, so many pitches that we can't reduce them to one so we perceive it as noise—to a single pitch—or a less complex multiphonic that can be perceived as a couple of pitches rather than noise. Here's an example of a bowed cymbal moving between a single pitch and two pitches a semitone apart (multiphonic). Here's another piece of mine, cartographies of sheet metal where one player aims to repeatedly play a single harmonic, alternating with a group of players all trying to find that pitch on their own cymbals. In most cases, the sound slips between mono- and multi-phonic, which is what I'm after.

For the duet in this LSTwo piece, the two players use the piece's basic material (the chord E, G#, D, F#, A# [and G♮]) as a set of common points to anchor their exploration. The multiphonics on both instruments are unstable and unpredictable, with an almost infinite number of possible pitches arranged hierarchically according to the resonances of the across the so most of the solo involves the players taking one of these pitches as a starting point, allowing the material-agency* of the instrument to alter the pitch and add in other components as it unfolds. The players attempt to balance this slow unfolding of sound, responding both to each other and their instruments. There is no score for this, just the principles outlined above that guide their developing practice, and the constraints of working around the ensemble part. The material forms a harmonic core of the duet, organised as a set of continuous chords by the players (improvising), that the instruments then augment, distort, and extend through their own complex interactions.

* For more discussion of material-agency in my early work, see my article "intra-agencies" in CeReNeM Journal issue 4. And some scores and recordings of my neither wholes nor parts pieces exploring this practice on winds.


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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.
Links:Opening Section + Magic Squares 34–71 Saxophone & Percussion duet Improvised duet of sax multiphonics and bowed-cymbal harmonics. Ensemble plays Feldman-like gentle background of overlapping melodies and soft noise. technique: Magic square. Links: generating ensemble part. 72–115 Guitar & Piano duet Guitar and piano play almost together, pushing/pulling each other, the ensemble play sp…

cello solo v2 - orchestration

Re-working the generated part: Before I get to orchestrating the cello solo, I decided I need to re-work the generated line. The previous line (ex.1 below) wasn't too practical, and didn't give the cellist enough leeway to work with the prepared-string to bring out the desired sounds: the whole point here is that the preparations allow for different harmonics and multiphonics to emerge, and that the tablature-style notation constrains the player's actions to limit what specific sounds emerge.

In the notation (as explained in earlier post) there's a 6-line stave to indicate not pitches but bow positions, between the preparation (bottom) and bridge (top); essentially sul-tasto to sul-pont. The part mostly only uses the right hand for playing, with the left hand occasionally used for timbre variation through interference (see b.143–145).

To generate the part, I allowed the isorhythm (ex.2) to run for nine iterations of the pitch line ('color' seems somewhat meani…

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…