un/winding

with No Comments

This piece proved a complicated one to fit together, as the composition process involved reconciling disparate and contrasting elements that were to be played concurrently. Having looked at the other pieces I had written this year I noticed a tendency to move to ternary-style or recapitulative structures. In order to challenge myself and learn through varying the structural frameworks of my music, I set about writing a piece in which one musical idea or state moved to another one, and ultimately allowing the piece to finish without returning to earlier material. I decided to take this idea of ‘binarism’ and extend it into other areas of the work, aiming to fill the piece with as many pairs and dualities as I could. I divided the ensemble into two independent groups (a woodwind group and a struck/plucked group) and wrote the parts separately. I wanted to use mobiles or looping motifs in a free-time space, and after trying out the sound in workshop decided that I wanted to use it as an accompaniment pattern. I used this accompaniment for the ‘B’ group (the Piano, Harp and Vibraphone), giving them a continuum from very free-sounding mobiles to an extended rhythmic component. I mapped out the piece in minute-long blocks, and gave each succeeding section longer mobiles until by the penultimate section each mobile’ became instead a longer part in canon, before a full extended ‘mobile’ that had a pulse and lasted for the entire section. I like this trajectory because it gave the piece a direction and a clearly structured process, but the problem of notating a gradual transition from a free space into a metered one was a significant one as the piece developed.

[one_third][box type=”shadow”] Short (3-4 note) Mobiles[/box][box type=”shadow”] Medium Mobiles[/box][/one_third] [one_third][box type=”shadow”] Short (5-6 note) Mobiles[/box][box type=”shadow”] Long Mobiles[/box][/one_third] [one_third_last][box type=”shadow”] Full chain in canon[/box][box type=”shadow”] Full chain in unison, with extension[/box][/one_third_last]

The map of each section in the ‘B’ (struck and plucked instrument) group

Because I was using such simple structures and logic in the construction of the piece, I wanted to use a simple scheme for the direction of the harmony. In keeping with the binary idea, I wanted to transition very slowly from one large chord to another chord (outlining the notes rather than simultaneously sounding the full chord). I discovered a method of building chords by which an increasing or decreasing interval is added to the chord (starting from a tonal centre). This method can produce two basic chords: a very open chord in which the largest intervals are placed next to the central note and the chromatically decreasing intervals placed above and below these notes until a limit is reached, and a ‘closed’ chord in which the smallest intervals (starting with a semitone) closest to the centre. I chose to base the chord around a central D, and to use the interval of an octave as the limit for the B group, and a sixth for the A group. I also chose that the percussion group would start with an ‘open’ chord and converge towards a ‘closed’ one, and that the winds would do the reverse. This meant that each group would be operating in a different register: the winds starting in the ‘centre’ and moving to the extremes, and the percussion starting in the extremes before moving to the centre and filling the space vacated by the winds.

unwinding1_opt

unwinding2_opt

This piece included two very different concepts of ‘time’ with the relatively metered and synchronised parts of the winds and the free, unmetered and unsynchronised parts of the piano, harp, and vibraphone. The wind parts were essentially a series of variations on alternating motifs, but the rhythmic component of the mobiles was rather more complex. I wanted to find a way of mirroring the way that I had built the harmonic structure, constructing chords from ‘first principles’, as it were, and after a great deal of experimentation I found that by taking increasing durations (at semiquaver increments up to the limit of a semibreve). This resulted in a simple acceleration and deceleration and was very uninteresting rhythmically, but when superimposed on itself there were phasing patterns which resulted in an engaging rhythm.

unwinding3_opt

I then worked out what rhythmic components I would need for the sections of my piece, starting with a number of very short extractions from the rhythmic chain, finishing with a complete statement as a rhythmic canon. I used different methods to get the various lengths of mobile, including taking short extracts, and compiling them from every 4th (or 3rd or 6th) note in the sequence. I then layered the mobiles in the space, allocating pitches (from the chords I constructed) to the generated rhythm.

With the continual parts written I then turned to the wind instruments. Although I wanted to use the same harmonic rules as I did before (albeit reversed) I settled on different rhythm and structure. Rather than the free-space world I placed extended motifs into a more metered space, using a theme-and-variation structure, but in a dual format: one (fragmented) theme stated, then a second unrelated theme (also fragmented) also stated, with alternating variations moving further away from the original material through the course of the piece. Due to the closeness of the notes in the opening chord the first theme was an alternating semitone interval, which gave me inspiration to use this idea as a very slow trill-effect in the later variations. It also suggested close intervals between the instruments to get a slight beating effect, and so I decided that the wind parts needed to be tightly synchronised with each other, but not (at least at the start) with the other instruments. I also explored gentle arpeggios up and down the pitch set as it widened as part of the variation. The woodwind move from a distinct foreground role into one of accompaniment, with the other instruments doing the reverse. Reconciling the different roles and rhythmic domains of the instrumental groups was the main difficulty of this piece, especially due to the fact that many of the elements moved along a continuum. I experimented with a number of different ways of notating my desired effect, as different systems would give greater clarity to different parts. The final notation is one which is clear for as many parts as possible, relying on the cueing of a conductor to ensure togetherness (as far as ‘togetherness’ is required in the piece, see performance notes at the start of the score).The constantly shifting textures and time-relations create a resonant, blurred movement from the non-resonant sounds of the percussive instruments, over which the woodwind layer melodies independently, creating a sense of freedom and spaciousness which was difficult to notate but satisfying to hear.

[gview file=”https://romanbenedict.com.s190270.gridserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Un-winding.pdf” save=”0″]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.