Exasperating means irritating or provoking to a high degree. Perpetuation means essentially continuous. When put together, the two describe something continuous that is highly irritating. Though the music itself is not irritating to the listener (hopefully), the rhythms, timbres, tempo, dynamics, etc all give the music a very irritated sound. As you will hear, the music is incessant and is constantly pushing forward.
The form of the work is basically an ABA form, or fast - slow - fast. The entire work uses a diminished scale (also called the octatonic scale), which is made up of 8 pitches. This scale was arrived upon basically by accident when the piece was started. I began by working in symmetrical intervals out from a pitch. After I finished the first sections of the piece, I realized I had used only the pitches found in this particular scale. Since the pitch never changes, other elements of music become more important to the interest of the composition. In this particular work, rhythm is of utmost importance, followed by timbre.
Exasperating Perpetuation was a finalist for the Walsum Composition Prize at the University of Maryland, College Park and was premiered by the Left Bank Quartet. Since, the work has been performed numerous times throughout the U.S. Members of the Inscape Chamber Orchestra (www.inscape.org) recorded this work at Sono Luminous Studios in Virginia.
A SLIGHT ANGLE TO THE UNIVERSE
The text of this work is a C.P. Cafavy poem titled “Waiting for the Barbarians.” The poem is set in an ancient Greek square. A conversation ensues between the common people and the government (or a representative of the government). The people question why they are waiting in the square and why government is not acting as it usually does. As the poem progresses, the people become more and more frantic. All the while, the government attempts to calm the people by causally telling them barbarians are coming to take control of the government.
These two distinct voices are reflected in the music. The people are represented by the half-step theme played with the bow. The people’s music often uses double stops and becomes more frantic as the piece progresses, reflecting their increasingly confused and frantic mindset. The government is represented by more percussive sounds, outlining stable perfect fifths. This part also becomes more frantic as the people become more frantic. Near the spoken line “why should this anxiety and confusion suddenly begin,” the musical elements begin to switch parts, mimicking the confusion of the crowd.
Cavafy was once described as writing “at a slight angle to the universe,” which is where the title was derived. “Waiting for the barbarians,” though written in 19054 and set in ancient times, still provides commentary concerning the interaction between a government and its people.
This work was written for violinist Francis Liu at his request for piece asking the performer to speak and while performing on the violin. Liu also recorded the work as violinist and narrator at Bias Studios.
A Thaumaturge is a Magician. This work is based on a magic square consisting of four rows with four columns. Each box in this square contains a number between 1 and 16. Properly arranged, each row, column, and diagonal (consisting of 4 boxes) will add up to the same number. In this case, the number is 34. One could also add four symmetrically placed corners to arrive at the sum of 34.
This square is “extra magic” in the sense that if you repeat the entire square in all directions, any 4x4 square within the grid will also have the same “magic” properties.
Every number in the square relates to a pitch (C=1, C#=2, etc). We only have 12 pitches in the standard octave, so after every 3 half steps, a quarter-tone is added into the scale. This results in our regular chromatic scale plus 4 quarter tones. Melodies were created by following paths which added up to 34. In addition, many phrases within the piece contain 34 notes.
Each instrument has a particular character, which is where the charismatic portion of the title is derived. These characters follow the stereotypes surrounding the instruments. The oboe is generally high-strung and stressed out; trying to to keep order in a quickly deteriorating landscape. The bass trombone is goofy, boisterous, and becomes quite a trouble maker, much to the oboe’s dislike. The english horn acts a mediator, attempting to calm the trombone and reign it back in to the “series” landscape of the piece. In the beginning, all is a “boring, traditional” piece. As the work progresses, the struggle begins.
The work explores extended techniques for the oboe, English horn, and bass trombone. Quarter-tones require the oboe/E.H. performer to find appropriate fingerings to make the notes sound properly. Multiphonics are requested with the oboe providing the harmonic content of a passage while the bass trombone performs the melody. The bass trombonist is asked to hum while playing to create a multiphonic effect.
Charismatic Thaumaturge was commissioned by Noelle Drewes for performance in a D.M.A. recital. Drewes and her husband, Zachary Hollister, recorded the work at Bias Studios.
ENVISAGING A SUPERCLUSTER
The genesis of Envisaging a Supercluster is in the stars. The piece is a representation of three different constellations - Leo, Monoceros, and Taurus. Star charts for each constellation were traced onto graph paper and translated into pitches and rhythms. On the graphs, the x-axis represents pitch (each line is a half step) and the y-axis represents rhythm (each line is a sixteenth note). The stars became pitches and the constellations became melodies. Each constellation became a pitch set used for that section.
The work, then, is divided into three sections. The first is Leo, the lion. This section is serious. It starts slow and ominous, but quickly picks up the pace. The second section is Monoceros, the unicorn. This is slower and a bit more ambiguous, much like the mysterious nature of the unicorn. In the final section, Taurus is featured. Taurus is a representation of the bull and the music reflects this. It is strong and powerful. As it progresses, the music becomes stern and stubborn.
Envisaging a Supercluster was written for Dan Shomper who is himself a Leo. Shomper premiered the work with Grace Eun Hae Kim at Washington College and both recorded the work at Bias Studios.
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