Commissioned for the Judith Weir Festival in June 2011, for baritone and cello was written in response to the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe. Scordatura of the Cello’s C string down a minor third, in conjunction with the cello part’s generally high tessitura and multiple harmonics, accentuates the ethereal sound-world around the baritone before the music descends into the depths of the low register. While a variety of timbres are embedded within the music, reflecting the dark connotation of the text, the music evinces an ambiguous and obscure character.
Light Upon Darkness
Light Upon Darkness was composed for the London Sinfonietta during my participation in the St. Magnus Festival Composer’s Course. Over a ten day period leading up to the première, the work was rehearsed and recorded. I took the work in progress into rehearsals where the performers were able to play through it, establish an understanding of the music and offer feedback. Listening to the music in daily rehearsals and from the recordings allowed me to perceive the timbres and sound-world of the music more accurately. This was especially effective as the new information shaped my decisions regarding the arrangement and production of the material and I was able to make effective adjustments to shape specific timbres. I tested multiple options concerning instrumental blending, pitch registers, muting, sul pont., harmonics and dynamics for generating timbres. I requested playback demonstrations of timbral techniques applied in various passages such as: timbral trills, hollow tone and flutter-tonguing for the flute, con sord., sul pont. and artificial harmonics for the violin and cello and flutter-tonguing and careful consideration of register for the clarinet. The bass drum rolls, vibraphone rolls and ringing resonances of the crotales were considered for sustaining colour shaping effects.
During the trial sessions, I varied these techniques individually for the separate instruments by adjusting their placement in the pitch registers, by varying the level of dynamics at the same time and blending between different instruments. I then proceeded to blend these techniques together in multiple ways for shaping specific timbres. Some examples of the results are found in bars 13-16 between the violin and cello. Sul ponticello applied to the cello line draws out high frequency resonances from the low pitches which blend effectively with the violin sonority sounding three octaves higher using artificial harmonics. This blend creates a distinct sonority unique to the combination of these instruments and the applied techniques. This expressive narrative device is a primary characterising feature of the body of the sound-world of this work.
Between the flute and the violin in bars 36-38 another type of timbre is created through a blend of artificial violin harmonics sounding in unison with the flute. Again, the result produces a sonority unique to the particular blend of these two instruments through the application of artificial violin harmonics and the fundamental pitches produced from the higher end of the flute’s register. Another variant of this idea is also produced through a combination of three instruments, for example, in bar 47 between the flute, vibraphone, violin and cello. In this case harmonic density contributes to this particular timbre as the violin and flute play fundamental pitches in unison with the cello in the same register at an interval of a 4th below using artificial harmonics. The feedback from the performers informed my decisions as to how I was able obtain the clearest and most effective results. The blending of instruments and applied techniques obfuscate the fundamental sounds of the individual instruments altering and controlling sonorities and ultimately unifying the instruments. As a result, a balance between two or more sonorities is produced.
Interacting with the performers and receiving immediate feedback reshaped my perceptions of the music daily and the constant reconsideration of the material allowed me to rehearse versions of a specific idea before making a final decision. Exploring developing material in this way has helped me to make well informed decisions about how to ultimately shape and arrange material. While writing the piece, this process influenced my decisions and contributed to the development and final realisation of the material.
Sonorization for Solo Clarinet
Interactive and collaborative processes undertaken while composing this piece significantly influenced both its musical material and ultimate realisation as Sonorization for Solo Clarinet. As opposed to writing music in a consistent, individualistic manner, my creative decisions in this instance were regularly influenced by feedback from the performer with whom I was working. The performer’s expertise, from which I benefitted throughout, served to enhance the music at each stage of its development.
Sonorization for Solo Clarinet consists of idiomatic though experimental contemporary music that employs various extended techniques within its parameters and technical scope. And thus by acquiring a deeper understanding of the clarinet, and determining how best to integrate such idiomatic techniques within the work, I sought to ensure in as much as it was possible the optimal performance. In this particular case, although I will focus on the sound-world theme, the actual process was prioritized in the interests of attaining the requisite familiarity with the instrument and its capacities. Indeed, as Sam Hayden and Luke Windsor, authors of Collaboration and the Composer: Case Studies from the End of the 20th Century, have suggested:
...a focus on collaboration may move the working style away from a tendency to prioritize the output of composition towards a desire to
reflect on and improve the processes which come prior to this. Such a motive strikes against the traditional view of the composer’s
concerns, although as we have seen, such a traditional view may not represent the practices which composers have long engaged in. The
stated ideology of many composers may still be that the aesthetic quality of the composition as notated, its for performance, is the main
Here, certainly, the nature of my processes was primarily interactive as opposed to directive (individualistic) or Collaborative (engaging in a collective decision-making process) and this accords with Hayden and Windsor’s collation of case studies.
INTERACTIVE: here the composer is involved more directly in negotiation with musicians and/or technicians. The process is more
interactive, discursive and reflective, with more input from collaborators than in the directive category, but ultimately, the composer is still the author.
On this basis, the adopted interactive model included discussions, workshop-style meetings and each session was recorded. This was particularly useful when recalling solutions to prior problems and the decisions that were made. In reference to the discussion between composer Fabrice Fitch and cellist Neil Heyde regarding their collaboration, Neil states according to Anssi Karttunen, Finnish cellist and collaborator, that:
In a musical literature that’s understood the performer’s role primarily as a mediator between a composer or piece and an audience, very
little attention is being paid to the performer’s potentially significant mediation between composer and piece. When this role is brought into
play early in conception the performer may take a vital inventive stance in which problems (musical ideas) are formulated and reformulated in tandem with their solutions. The composer and performer collaboration may thus become a science for playing out the dialogic aspects of artistic creation.
During our sessions, the performer was the mediator between composer (myself) and the piece. As this role was assumed right from the onset, relatively musical problems were formed and reformed in tandem with their solutions. For example, I initially conceived of seamless phrases rising and falling in the register with integrated multiphonics. I envisaged the phrases to be strategically formulated around these sonorities (multiphonics) facilitating the highest possible quality of sound production. Even though, during previous sessions we discovered what multiphonics could be produced effectively individually, it was within a given context that the desired outcome proved either difficult or nearly impossible. Rather than omitting a given sonority in these cases, reconsideration of the surrounding content was necessary specifically referring to the approach and departure to and from the given multiphonic. Following this solution, the timing, and even dynamics became a secondary issue. The performer discovered practical solutions to achieving optimal sound quality where passages become technically complex by suggesting alternative fingerings, adjusting the tempo and dynamics to modify the reproduction of a multiphonic and by also adjusting tempos and dynamics to reproduce a passage encompassing wide leaps and octave displacement incorporating pitches that span the instrument’s registral extremities. In relation to what was discussed between Fabrice and Neil regarding their collaboration, I presented ideas according to a preconceived plan and the performer was forced to look for new solutions on the instrument. I then had to face the problem of whether or not it was possible to perform them in a given context.
And during our meetings, the clarinettist additionally demonstrated rapid virtuosic passages spanning the extreme ends of the instrument’s registers, timbral trills and stark dynamic ranges. Thus, I was afforded a great depth of insight into the spectrum of possibilities available to me having sought to shape the sound-world envisaged; and with this more grounded understanding, I was able to make informed decisions in developing material that was suitably idiomatic for the instrument and attenuated no less to the strengths of the performer’s technical and musical abilities. These processes, discoveries and rediscoveries in collaboration with the performer conditioned my own creative techniques in linking and developing materials and creating a solid composition. The process of discovery and creativity within this working format closely represents the ways in which this piece came into being.
The dialogic format of this collaboration included the constant presence of the performer during the developing stages of the material. This approach facilitated the steady performability of developing content as the material was solidified. Heyde draws attention to the influence of the actual presence of the other party within the context of his own collaborative process with Fitch.
…in the case of an ongoing partnership that takes on a much more significant role, the presence of the other party gives their implicit voice
as the embodiment and limits the tendency to lapse into quasi-dialogue with oneself.
Before writing and collaborating, I began peripheral research on contemporary clarinet repertoire in order to broaden my understanding of the full range of the instrument’s technical capabilities and overall sonorous character within varying musical contexts. This repertoire consisted not only of music for solo clarinet but also for chamber ensembles featuring the clarinet. Three works in particular, however, informed my principal ideas. One entirely composed of multiphonics, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Let Me Die Before I Wake, was of great consequence given its strategic limitation. It struck me as an ideal demonstration of the versatility of the clarinet’s technicalities. Helmut Lachenmann’s Dal Niente and William O. Smith’s Variants for solo Clarinet, for their parts, influenced my approaches regarding creative applications of extended techniques within a musical context. These pieces illustrate the creative exploitation of the gamut of the clarinet’s extended techniques including key vibrato, multiphonics, singing while playing, muted notes, fluttertongue, glissandi and extremely quiet and even breathy tones.
Multiphonics are of particular interest to me because they generate manifold sonorities/counter-sonorities on an essentially monodic instrument. The sounds produced, indeed, are particular to this instrument and cannot be reproduced in the same way on any other instrument – they are difficult to control and what works on one clarinet, furthermore, may not necessarily work in the same way on another. On this basis, difficulties arise given that the reproduction of multiphonics is inconsistent and varies from performer to performer. I therefore carefully scrutinized the performer’s demonstrations, and as some instances were more successfully reproduced than others I selected those of the highest quality, produced with the greatest ease. Although it was not my intention for the piece to be based on multiphonics alone, they are immersed within the context of the music. Conducive to colour contouring, they diversify timbres in this piece and create a distinct sound-world. Harsh, loud, abrasive sounds from the low register of the instrument juxtaposed against singing lines placed high in the instrument’s register within a very quiet dynamic range in addition to the multiphonics portray a sense of broad dimension (pg. 1, bottom line into pg. 2, top line).
Melody lines frequently illustrate the quick exchange between opposite ends of the register. Wide leaps between pitches were made with very little difficulty. In some instances the lower register was set at a loud dynamic and followed or preceded by an abrupt wide leap into a very high range set at a quiet dynamic featuring two different timbres (pg. 1, line 5 from the fluttertongue on B and pg. 4, line 2, from the fluttertongue on C through to the a tempo beginning on G). Similarly, as demonstrated on page one in line two and on page four in line two, the multiphonics are positioned at quiet dynamics following or preceding fundamental pitches set at a loud dynamic. The treatment of multiphonics was carefully considered as they are not all produced clearly at the same dynamic ranges. Each multiphonic is set at the dynamic where it will sound most clear. Some allow for slightly more dynamic flexibility while maintaining the clarity in sound (pg. 1, line 3and pg. 2, line 2 at the harmonic trills).
Contrarily, in other cases, low register lines are placed at a quiet dynamic and immediately followed or preceded by very high pitches at a loud dynamic (pg. 2, line 1beginning at the A tempo on B and pg. 2, line 7 on G sharp on the third beat). Although, the latter appears more frequently as the pitches beginning at extremely quiet dynamics are more effective in producing ‘pinpoint’ sharpness whereas the contrasting stark and rough sounds come across more dramatically at the low end of the register at loud dynamics. In either case, both ends of the register produced at any dynamic are equally conducive to the overall contouring of the soundscape as pitches produced at the low, middle, and high end of the register will resonate differently and likewise when set at different dynamics. Four different timbres were achieved in each context regardless of the effectiveness for the purposes of contrast.
(…through the clouds towards the rising sun)
This was written in response to a commission for a new piano solo work inspired by Debussy’s Prelude no. 3 Le Vent dans la Plaine, a piece I find striking for its predominant sextuplet figures. They persist relentlessly throughout the entire prelude with only occasional interruptions by falling seventh chord quavers and abrupt, sweeping gestures. The sense of background and foreground, the hierarchies of Debussy’s material, I found particularly inspiring, and thus the prelude became a template of sorts as I wrote (...through the clouds towards the rising sun).
The luminous colours of the piano’s high register follow the introduction’s presenting of heavy, rising chords that grow out of the occasionally recurring, low E flat heard at the beginning. Around the low end of the register the opacity of the pitches conveys a sense of ambiguity, lacking clarity and focus. This is an essential timbre that establishes its significance against the upper-register counter-sonorities and equally, by dint of contrast, rendering the upper-register segments meaningful in their turn.
In combination with these effects, the contrapuntal content is also significant in establishing distinct sonorities within the harmonic context. Similar to the manner in which timbres pertaining to register are defined by opposition, this also holds true where dissonant intervals complement their consonant counterparts. They are embedded within harmonic sequences consisting of chords frequently aligning perfect consonances and dissonances. These timbral-sonorific relationships are essential to the delineation of the sound-world as it is their oppositional natures that define the colour dynamic so fundamental to the sound-world’s constitution.
Glaciers derives much of its sonic character through emulating the properties of drums through the sonorities of the marimba, harp, piano and bowed strings. The non-pitched percussion generates unique timbres within this ensemble of mostly pitched instruments, extending the low register with indiscernible, “sub-harmonic” tones. As aligned with the thinking of Varèse, these indefinite pitches offer an unsuspected depth to the low end of the register. This treatment of the drums is especially unique within this portfolio to the contextual setting of Glaciers.
Positioned on opposite sides of the orchestra, the timpani and large bass drum begin with a call and response motif; and as this dialogue develops, subtle differences in colour are exploited precisely where articulation and projection are to be distinguished. The piece is thus designed around reproducing the attack and decay profiles that characterise these particular instruments. And this structural division is accordingly broken down and effectively treated as two separate motifs, the initial event and its resonant consequences.
While sound-colour attributes are explored for their own sakes by striking the drum heads in different places, including the rim (Ex: pgs. 1 – 3), the nature of the drum’s sound production is manifested in the music as thematic material realised by re-orchestrated varieties of accented impacts and the extension and elongation of echoing resonances. These permutations serve throughout the work as fundamental building-blocks of the overarching structure of the work. The sound-world thus constituted consists of articulation variants such as abrupt, accented, dissonant string chords (Ex: bar 122) as against sustained string work, piano resonances, harp bisbigliando, and marimba tremolandos (variants of the natural envelope of decay), all of which are in addition to the combined sonic properties of the two bass drums and timpani themselves (Ex: bars 76-109 and bars 151 – 153). An inspiring example to be acknowledged here is Varèse’s seminal work Ionization, “the first work in which the acoustic components of percussion instruments are taken into consideration as the foundation of a musical form.” It must be acknowledged however, that unlike Ionization, rhythm, including texture, is not a primary concern within applications of orchestration or counterpoint, the primary components by which timbre is realised.
Adrift for amplified chamber ensemble was significantly influenced by the virtuosic percussion piece Trio per Uno by Nebojša Jovan Živković, though I drew, in addition, from my previous work for percussion and orchestra Glaciers (which also served to inspire various other key components of this piece’s content). How I chose to position the ensemble and the percussionists in particular, on the concert platform was, for example, principally informed by the performance directions of the Trio per Uno. Furthermore, it was the strikingly rhythmic and aggressive opening of the Trio that prompted me to explore the more continuous, aggressive and rhythmic articulations of the percussion section, as opposed to the frequent pauses, varied dynamics and expanding resonances that characterise Glaciers. And although atmospheres of sound are certainly of consequence through the work, responsive imitations or quasi-percussive resonances in the manner of Glaciers are a subsidiary concern. Rather, in this piece I aspired in general to a more belligerent, punctuated rhythmic approach, beginning within the percussion section and developing through the piano and string sections, in accordance with which the orbit of the sound-world necessarily shifts. The addition of pitch then draws in counterpoint, while register also asserts its influence on the altered body of sonorities.
Amplification modifies the instruments’ natural timbres with a view to extending and expanding both their dynamic range and decay profile while the scordatura is conducive to the arrangement of the featured tri-chord cluster. The C strings of the two cellos and the five-string violin are detuned to A, A quarter-tone sharp, and B flat respectively so as to obtain a highly compact cluster-complex between the instruments’ most resonant strings. This complex appears throughout the work in a variety of forms, for example at bars 15-19, where the dissonance is maintained between the two cellos, and through bars 20 – 22 between the violin and the cellos, where harmonics open out the range, setting the pitches an octave apart from each other (from cello 2 to cello 1 and to the violin). And in bars 24 – 28 in the violin line, the B flat open string is used as a double-stop maintaining the dissonant relationship with the cellos sounding A almost two octaves higher. One further example of a variant of this cluster relationship is to be found in the second half of bar 31 through the first half of bar 32. Here, the piano strikes B natural sounding below cello 1 on the detuned open A, accompanied by the violin and cello 2 at less than a semi-tone apart two octaves above.
Harmonic dissonance generates unresolved, prominent acoustic tension characterised by high speed, audible vibration-conflicts. Comparable to the roles of the bass drum and timpani in Glaciers, the piano’s treatment similarly exhibits relations of articulation and resonance. Consistent with the underlying contrapuntal configuration of the harmonic material, the inherent and distinctive colours of the ringing piano strings reflect and complement those of the string section. And at the same time this role is further extended to the percussion section, allowing for a call-and-response dialogue between the percussion and the responsive resonances of the strings. Thus, as instrumental colour emanates and is emulated through selected implementations of techniques and instrumental arrangements, it manifests a prominent timbral construct to which amplification contributes in a manner specific to this ‘acoustic’ landscape.
Embrace encompasses material contrasts between dynamic and registral extremes, abrasive and effacing lines. Such striking and starkly-etched characteristics ultimately constitute the work, defining its shape and dynamic contours. The abrupt occurrences of rhythmically sharp, dissonant motifs shaped by widely displaced chords sound as double-stops in the cello, pitting themselves against piercingly high pitches from the clarinet. Fragments of these rough-edged motifs are dispersed throughout the contrasted developing material, interrupting the continuity of the counteracting smooth, sombre, melodic lines. The music exploits the ensemble’s wide pitch-range, adjacent extremes featuring as the music’s unsettling, yet defining expressive narrative.
The opening material exploits the lowest region of the ensemble’s register and starkly contrasts with that of the ending, concluding as it does at its highest extreme. As it happens, the overarching timbral structure of this piece closely resembles the registral outline of (…through the clouds towards the rising sun); though this corollary was not intentional, registral contrast nevertheless significantly influences the timbral shape of both.
The muted solo cello against the background of the resonance of the double bass section paints a richly resonant acoustic soundscape, and this contrasts effectively with the ethereal transparency of the work’s concluding material. Registral sonority is explored through the evolution of timbral devices and contrapuntal content, reproducing a variety of sound-colours and resonances that reflect the different tessituras of the ensemble.
The melodic (and related motivic) material remains almost consistently homophonic where lines follow the same rhythmic pattern (as shown in bars 11 – 13 between the violin II and viola solos, and in bars 34 – 36 between the viola and cello solos), and polyphonic where two lines follow separate rhythmic patterns (pages 9 and 10), as it develops through the piece. It is distinguished within the work’s timbral frame by the parallel motions of 4ths and 5ths, intervals that are not intended to function incidentally as a single melodic line with accompanying voices articulating an underlying harmony. Rather, by the nature of the intervallic resonances of the perfect intervals, they function as an expressive narrative timbral device, instrumental to the construction of the overarching sound-world.
Furthermore, the constitutive melodic material is characteristically inextricable from these intervallic resonances. Defining the relationship between the developing melodic lines (including related motivic material), these sonorities mark the timbral device as a principal shaping component, in addition to the pitch material’s dynamic registral range.
Ambition: the Fury of the Blind Driver
Ambition: the Fury of the Blind Driver embraces relentless, high-paced and predominantly abrasive material. Timbral contouring within the sound-world is sketched by the frequent transitions between the ensemble’s polarised registral extremes. Variation here is engendered through the decaying resonances of the piano’s lower register contrasting with the stratified tessituras above.
The rough-edged nature of the material introduces stark, full sounding resonances in both the violin and piano, whilst the opening violin solo’s content continues throughout the entire work. This continuity, however, consisting of fluent arpeggiations and linear chromaticism, is frequently interrupted by brief rests, abrupt occurrences of effacing, accented open Gs and by octave displacement. The timbral changes that do occur, as registral shifts, help articulate a sense of structure by way of contrast, thereby delineating adjacent sections.
In addition, the piano material introduces chordal progressions that are predominantly quintal and quartal as evinced by the treble and bass lines independently. Where these harmonies move together homophonically, the stable resonances obtain within the soundscape as strong, stable, definitive timbral identities. As in Alone, Light Upon Darkness, (…through the clouds towards the rising sun), Adrift and From Darkness, the piano material also colours the overall soundscape with a pedal-tone, ambient sustain at the lowest end of the piano’s register. This in turn serves to complement the frequent interjections of the abrasive G from the violin. Although these attacks and sustains are conducive to the shaping of the work’s timbral outline, their role is less prominent here than was the case in Glaciers.
…to a beginning from no end – Original
Thebes and the Burden of Rulership – Re-composition 1
…to a beginning from no end – Re-composition 2
A set of three works, one original and two re-compositions thereof, are included in this portfolio. The set of three includes ...to a beginning from no end for piano and oboe; this was the first of the group and stands as the original. The second piece is the first re-composition, Thebes and the Burden of Rulership for flute doubling alto flute, oboe, and English horn. Here, I sought to incorporate the original material while generating a new context around it, thus extending the whole and creating a new work. And the third of the set, the second re-composition, is entitled ...to a beginning from no end; written for the baroque ensemble Trio Aporia, is scored for baroque flute, bass viola da gamba, and harpsichord. On this occasion, I expanded upon the original material through exploring different timbral combinations based on the original theme.
So, in rescoring this piece I sought to shape timbre by applying the same musical material to differing contexts and instrumental ensembles. This process of adaptation diversifies and develops the music’s timbral spectra and in so doing re-models its character by way of its instrumental and contrapuntal combinations. Re-composing the material in light of the particular capabilities of specific ensembles and individual instruments necessarily means reconsidering register, dynamics, and all manner of technicalities/physicalities. Indeed, it was my explicit intention for these pieces in general to actualise the potential for timbral recasting and reshaping of the soundscapes involved. Orchestral Combinations: the science and art of instrumental tone-colour, by Gardner Read, provided me with sufficient insight regarding instrumental combinations. Having observed many of the particular types of instrumental combinations as referenced from within different works by Read, decisions were well informed as timbral outcomes through instrumentation were effectively conducive to the overall sound-world profile. Therein, multiple examples of various instrumental combinations, registers and techniques observed within a vast selection of repertoire proved hugely stimulating as I went about the process of re-composition. And it was on this basis, indeed, that I began to envisage the soundscape for the pieces’ variety of instrumental combinations.
 Read, Gardner, Contemporary Instrumental Techniques, New York, U.S.A: Shirmer Books, 1976. 56-59. Despite inevitably being out of date, this book provides useful
information regarding applications of harmonics including a list of works containing contexts within which they are applied.
 Hayden, Sam and Windsor, Luke, ‘Collaboration and the Composer: Case Studies from the End of the 20th Century,’ Tempo, Vol. 61, No. 240, Cambridge University
Press, (April, 2007), 28 – 39 at 31.
 Hayden, Sam and Windsor, Luke, 2007, 33.
 Heyde, Neil and Fitch, Fabrice: ‘The Collaborative Process as Research: A performance of Fitch's "Per Serafino Calbarsi II: Le Songe de Panurge" with discussion of the
collaborative process’, in: Practice as Research in Music Online,
 Heyde, Neil and Fitch, Fabrice: ‘The Collaborative Process as Research’
 Although I am aware that this work is over 30 years old nevertheless, it provided me with insight into the particular type of clarinet sonority of which I intended to incorporate
within the context of my own work.
 Rehfeldt, Phillip, New Directions for Clarinet, Revised Edition, Vol. 4, Lanham, Maryland and Oxford: Scarecrow Press, 2003. This source provides a very useful fingering chart for possible multiphonic sonorities.
 Varèse, Edgard and Wen-Chung Chou, 1966, 13.
 François, Jean-Charles, ‘Organization of Scattered Timbral Qualities: A Look at Edgard Varèse’s Ionization’, in: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Winter, 1991),
48 – 79. As noted in this source, timbre is constituted of more than a single occurrence and it must first be inscribed within a given context of sounds and the timbre cannot
be separated from an instrument’s articulation. It is by this mean that timbre assumes identity or becomes a timbral reality.
 François, Jean-Charles, 1991, pg. 49.