This is for listeners who would like to know more about how the pieces on this CD were written.
1) UNDER THE VOID (2016-8)
2) THEN (2019)
3) ÕRTEMCHEI (2019)
These are not recordings of live performances: they are audio versions of compositions, made using a wide variety of techniques. I do not think of my pieces as achieving single definitive performances, and the versions here are not definitive either. I mixed virtual instruments with recorded acoustic instruments to work towards a sound image. But, just as with live performances, this sound image does not contain all the ways in which I could imagine this music sounding.
The first piece, UNDER THE VOID, is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, trumpet, horn, trombone, 2 violins, 2 violas, cello, bass, piano, and 2 percussion. What you hear is a direct audio realisation of this score.
I had made sets of chords derived from clarinet harmonics, and arranged them according to which pitches were shared as different harmonics of different fundamentals. I saw these sets as pitch fields having particular shapes. Even though I had made many personal choices about the harmonics, how accurately to measure them, and so on, these pitch field shapes constituted themselves as a kind of basic musical material that embodied an objective truth - even if this truth only concerned the behaviour of vibrating air in tubes with parallel sides. Out of this feeling emerged the idea of an opposition between a realm of static forms that appear as givens, and a realm of human actions, interventions, interruptions and in general the innumerable ways that humans have of breaking down fixed structures. Here I was thinking the human as a living, and so non-coherent, being, within which patterns sometimes develop that begin to isolate and harden themselves against change before suddenly breaking down or erupting into quite different behaviours. In other words there is a human capacity for rational goal-directed problem-solving action in which contradiction is on a smaller scale than that of the patterns themselves, and there is a human capacity for friction and violence in which the patterns themselves are in contradiction, or subject to contradictions larger than themselves. So one important serial aspect of this piece operates along a scale with constructive, extrapolating, and gradual, actions one end, and destructive, disturbing, and sudden, actions the other.
The first form of action to show itself arose simply from seeing how a note belonging in one chord changes into another note in the following chord. Step-wise motional pathways began to stretch out and multiply in various ways, as if extending high bridges across deep chasms or voids between the chords, which now appeared as separate, and so potentially remote, structures in a larger world.
Zones of unpitched percussion and percussive piano represent the form of discontinuous and staccato action most antagonistic to the stability of sustained notes in the chords. At the other end of the scale, glissandi represent the most continuous way of passing between stable states: in fact at the end of the piece you hear a complete pitch field in the pure form of a set of glissandi as the notes of one chord slide continuously towards the notes of the next, momentarily pausing before sliding on to the next again. I worked these out using a very small software called High C - itself derived from the UPIC programme written by Xenakis. (Sketches of such glissando fields appear on the CD artwork.) By extension other kinds of glissandi gradually worked their way in, such as those made by lowering a gong into a bath.
Then, in the middle of the work, the percussionist and musical activist Daniel Buess, the person for whom I was writing this piece, ceased, in a completely unforeseeable way, to exist as a living person. The void that had been there all along as an idea now acquired a sharper sense. What substitutes for a person we have known and who is no longer there, is, and can only be, the presence of the world itself. Peering UNDER the emptiness, we find the sky, the wind, the stars. Or they appear, and say: we are here. Or they say: there is no limit to how we can be felt and experienced and perceived, we are a phenomenological infinitude, and so we contain the seeing and hearing and sensing of all living beings past present and future. This is evidently not something new but something present in all cultural traditions.
THEN (2019) is unscored and was never designed for performance. (Although if anyone wanted to commission a performance score, working out how to do it would be a great project!) I worked by ear on computer without prior calculation or notation, using virtual strings, brass, woodwinds, accordion, and piano, together with siberian frame-drums, gongs, viola, electronics, bowed cymbals, lap steel guitar and Yamaha DX-21 keyboard. I imagined a sequential structure that loosely follows an imagined shamanic ritual. In this, the piece develops from previous work by the K-SPACE trio in which I collaborated with Ken Hyder and Gendos Chamzyryn, and I remain indebted to these two musicians and explorers. As in the shamanic rituals of Siberia, there is a high degree of spontaneity, which, transferred to the recording of music, can allow a sense of discovery to permeate what becomes fixed. But apart from this playful poietic dimension, THEN is also serious in the sense that, as shamanic rituals often do, it specifically addresses crisis, illness, loss, and death, and their accompanying emotional states. This becomes clearer as the piece unfolds from its perhaps lightly undertaken opening section and gradually takes up the responsibilities it has offered itself - much as might be the case in an actual shamanising session.
All my compositional work is deeply influenced by sound-recording. But in THEN this connection is more direct than usual, and any musical calculation is low in the mix. The main tools in use come from studio work: timbral and frequency placement in an overall spectrum conceived as a space, manipulation of recordings, artificial dynamics, and xenochrony. After seeing and hearing Y. Utsunomia's audiovisual piece "Study of Ultra-Pure Tone" in Tokyo, I had wondered about "total" chords that might contain every possible pitch within the instrumental spectrum. The chords heard at the start of THEN, and referred to occasionally throughout, were arrived at by a process of removing a vast number of notes from such total chords, so as to leave registral bands that seemed to relate to one another in interesting ways.
I allowed myself to pick up some sounds from elsewhere whilst making the piece. The presence of the accordion came from the very striking playing by Stefanie Mirwald at the Rebecca Saunders portrait concert I heard in London on 19/1/19, and the bowed cymbals were inspired by the solo given by Eddie Prévost at the Cafe Oto on 14/3/19.
ÕRTEMCHEI (2019) is the Tuvan word for "worlds". The choice of this title refers to a way of composing where I have some limited elements that generate divergent kinds of results in the form of sound-ecologies. I began (again!) with a set of chords, but this time conceived in 3 layers corresponding to the cosmology of lower world, middle world and upper world (or sky). I then used the intervals in the chords to make rhythmic sets that gave rise to three horizontally unfolding worlds. Each group of chords opens up the conditions for each successive world to develop. All three worlds use duration and rhythm patterns to lay out sequences of timbral and gestural changes, which are scored partly graphically. This is a technique that I used around 2011 for two earlier pieces, On Earth, and Ananké, which both appear in recorded form on my previous CD CUTS.
Unlike the other two pieces here, Õrtemchei has been performed live, and was premiered by the Hyperion Ensemble (U.K.) at Iklektik Arts, London, on 15/9/19. The band on this occasion were: Chris Cutler, percussion, Angharad Davies, violin, Edward Lucas, trombone, Mayah Kadish, violin, Alex Paxton, trombone, Lucy Railton, cello, Gwen Reed, bass, Mark Sanders, percussion, Yoni Silver, bass clarinet, and Otto Willberg, bass. What you hear here merges some short chordal passages from this performance with virtual instruments treated in various ways, together with my own interpretations of parts of the score on bass clarinet, strings, and percussion, and a very few fragments of the live recording of Gymnos, an earlier piece written for, and performed by, a different version of the Hyperion Ensemble in 2016 - fragments that seemed to fit the timbral and textural contrasts I was looking for.