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PLIGHT (2017)

Instrumentation: solo viola

Since I started my degree with scarcely a few years of musical experience to my name, I had very few points of reference when it came time for me to start composing. Almost everything I did for a quite a while was based (plagiarised?) on Philip Glass’ music in some way, the only composer whose works I had at least a passing familiarity with. Around the time of this piece, I had developed a taste for formal outlines that eschewed cohesiveness in favour of mashing together things that did not belong together, which I suspect was based in part on the experience of listening to the mechanical relentlessness of pieces like Glass’ Music in Fifths.

I invented the term ‘simultaneous processes’ to mask the fact that I failed to come up with a convincing formal structure for the piece and mostly freely composed it to meet a performance deadline (see the two empty bars at the end of the score. Faced with the idea of admitting that I had failed to conduct even a brief proofread before submitting it before performance, I took BB King’s advice and pretended it wasn’t a mistake). The material heard from b. 24 onwards undergoes expansion and metric variation that is determined largely by whim, while the motif that ‘interrupts’ at b. 44 unfolds strictly, uncompromisingly, inexorably, via a process that I permitted myself no interference with. I found as writing progressed that I could ‘respond’ to the latter material through my decisions for the former, which gave the piece direction, so I had stumbled way into a fairly rewarding compositional process. I think there is something in this counterpoint between contrasting compositional methods that would reward much deeper exploration, and my loose idea of attaining to ‘beauty’ through the mechanical certainly paved the way for The Machinery some years later (as well as leading me to a very bemused viewing of Tetsuo the Iron Man, which is a different story).

The mechanistic material is a pitch series built from Per Nørgård’s ‘infinity’ series, something I desperately wanted to get around to exploring further but never found the time for largely as a result of it being fairly difficult to grasp. It is fascinating—by choosing two pitches, a series is generated that continues to infinity, and as far as anybody can tell Nørgård was the first person in human history to discover it (see the Online Encyclopaedia of Integer Sequences My introduction makes a show of this fact, beginning on a unison before glissandoing into the minor second that constitute the first two pitches of my series. Pretty cool, I think. It has something of the organic about it since everything that comes after is determined by this singe choice of pitches, establishing me firmly as a musical elitist by communicating my understanding that all choices made in a creative work have consequences and implications (that, or it is penance for the lack of cohesiveness in the remainder of the piece).

During performance, one of Martin Outram’s strings snapped as he approached maximum in the page-eight section, which is the kind of theatrical gift you would scarcely even dare wish for.


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