Meadow

2016

for a large number of performers (minimum 20), singing or/and playing

duration open (10′ or more)

f.p. workshop participants, CoMA Festival of Contemporary Music for All, Kings Place, London, 5 March 2016

Meadow is an installation for any performers – singers, instrumentalists of any type – and requires large numbers (minimum 20). It should be performed without musical score, although the text to be spoken may be printed on a piece of card that can be held in the hand by performers. In addition, each performer will require a coloured tissue paper ‘butterfly’, as detailed in the score.

The performers populate a sonic wildflower meadow, constantly varied in detail but unchanging in overall texture. They collectively produce a highly variegated, quiet ‘hum’ – a dense but delicate weave of sound that may rise only a little above the ambient sound of the performance space, revealing its intricacies only to those listening close-up.

Meadow was designed to work as a pop-up performance within a large, multipurpose public space, though a relatively quiet environment is necessary. Performers work independently from each other. The whole group should be quite densely clustered, close together, but one or more paths through the performer ‘meadow’ should be left. The audience should be able to walk among, around and through the performance as much as possible.

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Primo Libro

2012-16

6 solo voices SMCtTBar(orT)B

20′

to Ekmeles and Jeffrey Gavett

Primo Libro is an attempt to write a ‘primal’ madrigal book exploring fundamental relationships of text, sound, harmony, contour and expression, consisting of 18 short madrigals for one, two or four voices, each lasting about a minute and operating as parts of the whole rather than separate pieces. It is written in 31-division Equal Temperament (31-ET), a close approximation of extended quarter-comma meantone, in which major and minor triads on all scale degrees can be tuned near-justly. The 31-degree scale was theorised and applied to vocal and keyboard music in the mid-16th century by Nicolà Vicentino but fell into disuse after his death. As well as distinguishing between sharps and flats (C# being a different, flatter pitch than Db, etc.), 31-ET also employs 1/5-tone sharp and flat pitches to make a scale in which all notes are approximately 1/5 of a tone (38.71c) apart. Much of the music of Primo Libro exploits 31-ET’s propensity for nearly-pure major and minor triads. Additionally, neutral triads (the third degree of the scale exactly bisected between major and minor) are used, as well as more closely-spaced chords, echoing Vicentino’s theories of diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic harmony.

f.p. (excerpts) EXAUDI/James Weeks, Aldeburgh Festival, 10 June 2017
f.p. (complete work) Ekmeles/Jeffrey Gavett, New York, 7 October 2017

Cornish String Music

2015

any number of orchestral string instruments (at least 16)

15′

f.p. Participants of CoMA Summer School, High Melton, Doncaster, 7th August 2015

Introduction to the score: Cornish String Music is a sound ritual for a large number of stringed instruments. The ensemble sets up a loud, high-energy block of sound, outwardly static but internally dynamic, from which are hewn rhythmic profiles using the outlines of four Cornish folksongs. The instruments use only detuned open strings until the final section; the sound quality should be primal, rough and resonant, the intensity similar to that of Noise music. The piece should be performed either in a resonant space or with amplification such that the effect is engulfing and immersive.

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Walled Garden

2015

2 alto flutes, bass flute, violin, viola, cello

24′

Commissioned by Spitalfields Music

f.p. Hortus Ensemble (Daniel Pioro violin, Robert Ames viola, Oliver Coates cello, Jane Mitchell, Rebecca Larsen alto flute, Helen Keen bass flute), Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, Christ Church, Spitalfields, 3rd June 2015

Programme Note
Walled Garden (2015), for string and flute trios, is a set of three pieces designed to be interleaved with Mala punica, a sequence of canons for eight-voice vocal ensemble written in 2008-9. As its title suggests, it is a further exploration of the idea of the hortus conclusus that lies at the heart of Mala punica: the ‘enclosed garden’ as an imaginative space where all kinds of natural beauty and harmony flourish. In the Middle East and Europe this space has been more than merely imaginative or allegorical: the ancient hortus conclusus image, closely related to the Classical notion of the idealised locus amœnus (‘pleasant place’) gave rise to a tradition of walled garden design familiar to us from countless medieval paintings and manuscripts.

Echoing the latent diurnal cycle in Mala punica, the three pieces of Walled Garden represent a garden at three times of the day: dawn, early afternoon and night. All of its materials derive from a single breath or bow-stroke; the harmony comes from the first four notes (a rising modal scale) of Quae est ista, the oscillations of Hortus conclusus reappear in the following instrumental piece, and like the vocal pieces the underlying structures are canonic. There, however, the similarities with the vocal piece end: instead of the rigorously worked canons of the vocal pieces, here listeners are presented with something more like a field or musical space, internally moving but outwardly relatively static, and the players are given liberty to wander through their material in different ways and in their own time.

I imagine each piece as taking place in real-time, like an unedited film. In that time the steady-state textures change gradually: the sun increasingly catches the leaves of the plants over the eight minutes of the first piece; the wind rises and falls across the span of the second piece, and in the last there are slight, unpredictable fluctuations of gently rustling foliage.

Walled Garden and the locus amoenus

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Softest Numbers

2014

violin, piano

4’

f.p. Amarins Wierdsma (vn), Aaron Burrows (pno), Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, November 2014

Softest Numbers was written for the Ives Song transcription project at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Ives’ Cradle Song (1919) is used as source material.

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Olympic Frieze

2014

any pitched instruments (at least 12 players), with movement

open duration

f.p. Participants of CoMA Summer School, High Melton, Doncaster, 21st August 2014

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Olympic Frieze is conceived like an Ancient Greek frieze around the entablature of a temple: players should be placed along the walls of the performance space at regular intervals, like figures in a bas-relief. Like visitors to a temple or museum, the audience should be free to wander through the space and out again as desired, and there should be no audible starting or stopping point – ideally the music should be playing before the first audience member enters and continue after the last audience member leaves. Thus the piece functions as part of the decoration of the room, and might be considered a descendant of Satie’s musique d’ameublement; the difference being that Olympic Frieze is not intended as background music but to draw the listener’s attention. It is also fundamentally audio-visual in nature.

The piece explores the fundamental pleasure and beauty of physical exercise that underlie both ancient and modern manifestations of the Olympic games (as well as the Spartan gymnopaedia evoked in Satie’s piano pieces). The music consists of three elements: Exercises, Actions and Disciplines. There are 84 short, repeated Exercise motifs analogous to simple movements of the body, or stretching exercises, in performing which the players adopt stylised (musical) poses akin to those of Greek art. In between Exercises the players perform a number of silent physical Actions devised by themselves. Once stretched and loose each player is ready to attempt his or her own personal Discipline, chosen from a list of 9 possibilities (running, jumping, javelin and trampoline).

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Amor de lonh

2002

soprano and harpsichord

10’

Text: Jaufre Rudel

f.p. Juliet Fraser (soprano), James Weeks (harpsichord), Winchester, June 2002

Amor de lonh, written in 2002, reconstructs two troubadour vers by Jaufre Rudel according to some of my then compositional preoccupations. Both of Jaufre’s melodies receive a highly ornamented treatment, and both use changes of mode to bring about a change of mood, as well as chromatic inflections to decorate the florid lines. In the second poem the chromaticism becomes more pervasive as the mood grows darker. The rhythms are very loose and improvisatory in the first and very detailed and rigid in the second. In the first song the accompanying harpsichord plays melismatic lines in alternatim or heterophonic unison with the voice (nearly doubling, but not quite), and in the second it adds two alternating drone notes to its chromatic lines, punctuating the voice’s fragmentary phrases.