From the outset I wanted this work to have a mechanical quality, mirroring the hardness and mechanical nature of the instruments used. In addition to using the pianos and percussion in a mechanical way I wanted to explore the resonance and post-strike- shaping of their non-sustained sounds.
The musical material for the various sections of this piece was methodically derived from a single extended rhythmic and melodic motif:
This motif was used for two contrasting sections by applying successive layers of simple procedure. The first section (which then became the last section) took the motif and looped it, but I developed an algorithm whereby it would repeat a set number of times, every second or third note would be removed, and this new shorter version would repeat a different set number of times. The ratios of repetition were derived either from the Fibonacci sequence or from consecutive primes. Each piano part was processed with different ratios of looping and reduction, and the entries of the players offset (in the style of a canon or fugue) to achieve a rhythmic coming-together effect. The result of this first stage of transformation was two continuous threads of music, doubled at the tri-tone, having a rather consistent or unengaging tonal quality and a static register. The next step of the process was to diverge the left and right hands in each part, so I used the change of direction in the basic motif (whether intervals stepped up or down) as a guide for the transformation. This was the final process which I used:
- Notate the direction of every interval (u=up, d=down)
- uudu uduu udud udud uddd udud uddu uudu uudu uudu uuud dddd ddu
- Group these 51 notes in fours and ‘average’ each group
- u u ud ud d ud ud u u u d d
- Divide the number of notes in each piano part by the number of direction changes. After set amount of notes (not beats) transpose the melodic line from that point forward. U= right hand up by a minor third, D= left hand down by a minor third. UD= right hand and left hand move a minor third each. The right hand always moves up, the left hand down.
- 505 notes in piano 1 – change every 42 notes
- 471 in piano 2 – change every 37 notes
This process gave the full musical material of this section. I drew attention to the looping material by placing percussive beats on the first note of a repetition, which resulted in a slowly increasing frequency of pulses until they were locked in together in a crotchet pulse. The final step involved going through all parts to make the mechanically manufactured music playable by human players, a process which involved simplifying some syncopations, fitting material into more appropriate time signatures, and enhancing the dynamic contrast of the changing registers.
For the first section I applied an alternate set of processes to the same material. The basic concept was to take the motif and slow it down until it becomes unrecognisable. This was ornamented with a set of procedurally generated inventions on the motif: one inverse-retrograde statement of the theme, and a set of note-pairs derived in a grid system. I wanted the repeated-note tremolo effect, which proved hard to sustain on piano, so I bolstered this effect by doubling the tremolo pattern on temple blocks, and the pitch material was doubled on bowed vibraphone, and later soft mallet pulses towards the climax of the section.
The middle section came from a different idea. I took the idea of stacked fifths and of resonance to build a movement that included large open chords. I explored the idea of duplication: having the pianos act as resonators for the percussion, and having the percussionists ‘stop’ strings with their hands, although this section was later cut.
After a relatively quick initial composition process this piece went through a number of major restructurings and edits. A major part of this process was the removal of excess material: the piece originally had an introduction and coda with an arcing motif, but I felt they got in the way of the momentum of the work. Although they added a nice symmetry to the work (hinting at other motifs and being an almost exact copy of each other) making the ideas express themselves clearly in the instrumentation was difficult, and I believed that they were giving ‘misleading’ information to the audience. The two large sections were left uncut, but their positions reversed to give the piece a more conventional contour (starting with a dramatic but quiet unison and building to a climax at the end). A nice by-product of this was that although the theme is present in the beginning of the piece, it is not until two-thirds through that it gets stated in full. The middle section was trimmed, as I chose to remove an element (the modification of resonance inside the pianos by the percussionists) because it felt disruptive. Instead, I transformed the middle section with the application of a simple ternary form, with the open stacked fifths positioned against a percussion solo that used the resonance of the piano pedals to allow the sound to bloom. Overall I felt that my reversioning process was a matter of streamlining, removing material which didn’t quite have the desired effect, or that got in the way of the material and the dramatic momentum of the two original sections.
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