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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution
BattleBattle is a dramatic musical scene taken from the novel Weaveworld based on the famous novel of Clive Barker written in 1987. The general idea of this dramatic scene is the struggle to reconcile discontinuity and continuity, disorder and order. It is not a question of one destroying the other but of their co-existence at the end of the piece in the form of chaos, a structure that is at the same time orderly and disorderly. The macro-form of this piece was inspired by the scientific studies of the passage from order to disorder to chaos in nature (Period 3 implies Chaos). In the novel, Immacolata (the Black Madonna), Shadwell (the evil salesman who aids her) and the Byblows (the monstrous children of Immacolata's sister) represent the forces of discontinuity, disorder, hate and materialism who wish to destroy the Weaveworld. On the other hand, the Seerkind (supernatural entities with magic powers taken from the Garden of Eden), Suzanna and her lover Cal (the guardians of the living carpet, Weaveworld, where the Seerkind hide) represent the forces of continuity, order, love and imagination. In Battle, Cal sings three times a hymn to love and imagination: "Though life itself is but a wilderness of dust, the love true lovers imagine need never be lost."
Battle is orchestrated for 4 solo voices: Suzanna (lyric soprano), Cal (tenor), Shadwell (bass), Immacolata (coloratura) and two mixed choirs (Seerkind and Byblows). The two choirs have been pre-recorded and spatialized onto multi-channel tape. The macro-form of the piece is broken into 14 short sequences where the two antithetical worlds confront each other in sound before the climactic 15th sequence, which terminates in their co-existence in the form of chaos. Battle was commissioned by Nicholas Isherwood and his ensemble Vox Nova with the financial aid of the CNAT (National Center for Art and Technology) of the city of Reims. It is dedicated to Nicholas Isherwood and to VoxNova.
In his tale, "The story of the Queen of the Morning and Soliman, Prince of Genies," Gerard de Nerval explains that the word Makbénach means "the flesh leaves the bones." This decomposition of the body is the very result of death, itself. As a person who is interested in composition -- not decomposition, I conceive of artistic creation as an antidote to the somber conclusion: "All is vanity."
In my composition, Makbenach, I work with the idea of composing with sound in a continuum of pitch, intensity and timbre. This multiparametric polyphony forms unstable harmonic structures that are constantly in evolution, contrary to certain types of writing for instruments or certain electronic synthesis techniques where the harmonies, tonal or spectral, seem to me to be frozen. The harmonic structures which are the result of my multi-parametric writing for instruments are further enriched and enlarged by the addition of a multi-channel tape. Electronic transformations via the convolution of instrumental sounds with synthetic sounds are mixed on tape with a voice that declaims the meaning of Makbénach. This voice represents symbolically the eruption of an anxiety that threatens to destroy the courage necessary to maintain a desire to create in the face of the certainty of death and its resultant product Makbénach. This work is dedicated to conductor Paul Mefano and saxophonist Daniel Kientzy, who premiered the work at the Pompidou Center in Paris in a concert of the Ensemble 2E2M in May, 1996 .
Monologue, originally written in 1990, was completely revised in 1995. It is a chamber opera for bass voice and 8-channel electronic tape composed on the UPIC system, with further processing done in the Hyperprism and GRM Tools programs. The opera uses as its libretto the short play of Samuel Beckett, "A Piece of Monologue." The work is dedicated to the memory of Beckett, and to Nicholas Isherwood, who premiered the new version. This piece requires that the singer be able to continuously change the pitch, intensity and timbre of his voice. The tape part, which is in 8 tracks digital, also contains similar kinds of continuous transformation by way of changes of vibrato, tremolo, filtering and spatialization as applied independently to four stereo pairs of tracks.
Two Electroacoustic Songs
Two Electro-Acoustic Songs was commissioned by Leonore Gerstein of Ann Arbor, Michigan and is dedicated to her. The two songs use the original Hebrew texts of two poems by the Israeli poetess, Dahlia Ravikovitch, "Time Caught in a Net" and "On the Road at Night."
The composition of the songs was inspired by three musical theories: the first is the theory of composing in the continuum of Julio Estrada, which includes the dividing of the musical event into the multiple parameters of its sound and drawing for each parameter a graphical and then precisely notated representation of its "trajectory." Trajectory means that for a certain composition, one composes a path of movement along a pre-defined scale or range of values, values that may be continuous or discrete. If continuous, one passes through all intermediate points on the scale that are between discrete values, whereas, discrete trajectories pass abruptly from one scalar value to the next. The difference between a continuous and discrete frequency trajectory can be made clear by comparing pitch paths that are possible on instruments that are tuned to certain discrete, non-varying values and those whose pitches may vary continuously. On a string instrument, one can play a glissando between two equal tempered pitches and hear all intermediate micro-tonal values, whereas, the piano only gives us the discrete values of the chromatic scale.
In these two works, I have composed trajectories for multiple aspects of the sound, such as its amplitude, timbre, frequency, internal harmonic movement, duration, and spatial location. These parameters are composed so as to insure the independent, contrapuntal motion of all parameters, not making the traditional assumption that all parameters must move in the same rhythm. One important example of continuum in these works is my concept of the timbre path, which is a trajectory of transformation of timbre. These paths are multiple within a single instrumental part and include varying a certain parameter of the sound to create a timbral continuum. There may be continuous or abrupt timbral transitions. For example, timbral paths may vary between pure and harmonically-rich timbres, between stable and unstable timbres, between noise-rich and noise-poor timbres, and between timbres with rapid, shallow vibrato and those with slow, deep vibrato.
The second important theoretical basis of these works is to be found in the micro-harmonic music of Scelsi. The music of continuum may be seen as a kind of spectral music in that continuous micro-variation of frequency may be analogized to the movement of detuned, unstable partials of an explicit or implicit harmonic series. The use of continuous micro-variation of slowly moving pitch values suggests a harmonic series movement from one complex tone to another. It is as though one were putting an aural microscope on the inner instability of the harmonic structure of an individual, continuously detuning, complex tone. Above a fundamental frequency, itself more or less stable, there can be incredible diversity of activity of the individual micro-components or partials, as they refuse to remain constrained to a single harmonic series tonality. In the piece "On the Road at Night," the UPIC part is used to clarify the harmonic series implied by the voice and flute. The UPIC part frequently contains the fundamental frequency or other partials of the same harmonic series as the voice and flute. In addition, the UPIC often indicates a change in harmonic series by a shift from one fundamental frequency to another. However, while the fundamental frequency is perceptible as a central tone, there is much micro- movement around it. Up to 64 detuned micro-components are assigned up to four waveforms, each extracted from a sampled instrument, each with its own complex envelope, and a frequency modulation arc which imposes micro-tonal pitch movement and rhythmic patterns on that central frequency, thus making it a point of only relative stability.
The third source of inspiration for these works is to be found in Xenakis' notions of the continuum between order and disorder. On the micro-level of parametric transition, slowly evolving, continuous transitions are identified with a tendency towards order and discontinuous transitions are identified with a tendency to disorder. Discontinuity creates a tendency toward disorder by discretisation, that is, parametric transformations that move abruptly between discrete scalar values. One may also describe a tendency toward disorder on the macro-level of sound object perception. The perceptual unity of the tone, a product of a single harmonic series, dissolves into the increasing complexity of the cluster, an object that is too complex to be heard as the product of a single harmonic series, and then to the noise, even more complex. Noise may be stable despite being complex, or unstable, seeming to splinter into its various micro-components. In these two works, one finds both a tendency to disorder in the form of increasing discontinuity and discretisation on the micro parametric level, but also a tendency towards disorder on the macro sound object level as the UPIC part moves towards increasingly complex, sonic objects that are no longer perceivable even as very unstable tones, but shade over into dense clusters.
Le Fleuve du DésirThe inspiration for Le Fleuve began with the observation of various kinds of fluids: rivers, water boiling in a pan, and a fluid of a different sort, what Freud called "libido," which is the mythological fluid that he used to describe the ebb and flow of human desire. My "river of desire" was, thus, inspired by fluid flow, real and fantasied--that is, it was not a question of a tone poem that would describe in realistic detail the flow of a natural river--but, rather, a river of sound that would flow as my musical imagination would require.
The macro-form of my "river of desire" came to me as a kind of fantasy of a river as a sound substance in free transformation. My sound-river starts out cold, icy, almost immobile. It takes awhile for it to melt and to flow more freely. This sound-river, which for a certain time was seeming to evolve slowly, smoothly and continuously, all of a sudden takes an unexpected, turbulent turn. It begins to boil, becoming chaotic. When the energy becomes too great, it disintegrates into steam. However, the cooling off of the steam causes a re-condensation into a more orderly sound structure. A moment of rest and contentment is reached as my sound-river fantasy ends.
This piece involves the evolution in time of different sound structures. It is conceived on multiple levels of the perception of structure.
On the micro-level of perception, there are eight trajectories or paths of change of sound parameters in time: pitch, vibrato, amplitude, bow accentuation, bow position, bow color, bow speed, and bow pressure.
On the meso- level, which is the level of perceived resultant timbre or net harmonic structure, the piece moves between the detuned unison tone to the harmonic series to the cluster to the noise to the unstable noise, and then back to the harmonic series, the detuned unison tone, and finally at the very end, perfect unison tone in octaves. This level of the work is equivalent to harmonic modulation as in traditional tonal music.
The macro-level of the piece is the level of order and disorder, but here I conceived the structure perceptually, not mathematically. On a formal level, the piece moves from order to disorder and back to order. However, what is perceivable to the listener are order and disorder at the levels within and between section transitions.
There are micro-transitions which are smooth, continuous, and thus orderly for the ear, and there are micro-transitions that are discontinuous, that is not smooth, that jump from one discrete value to another, without gradually connecting the scalar points. These are intra-section transitions from order to disorder. However, the level of "catastrophe" (René Thom) or chaotic perceptual transition occurs at a middle level, that is, between sections. Between the first two sections of the piece, transitions are smooth and gradual, but between section three and section four, there is an abrupt transition to chaos. As turbulence sets in, changes lose their smooth, continuous quality and become perceptually unexpected or jarring.
In sections five and six, as the sound becomes ever more disorderly and unpredictable, gradually disintegrating into unstable noise, one has perceptual chaos proper, that is, sound that is simultaneously continuous and discontinuous. These are regions of perceptual contradictions: impossible and unstable combinations of order and disorder. The transition back to order, between sections six and seven, is again chaotic, as there can be no smooth transition between unstable noise and an orderly sound structure such as the harmonic series. At the end of the work, between sections seven and eight, there is again a smooth transition between the harmonic series and the detuned unison gradually coming to rest on a five octave-wide perfect unison sound structure.