Instrumentation: flute, clarinet in Bb, alto saxophone, piano
Variations was my first foray into ‘modular’ notation, an interest I would explore heavily in subsequent works.
Performers follow a series of ‘once this happens, do this’-type instructions. These instructions were given in text in my first draft of the score, but feedback on this highlighted the cumbersomeness of pages filled with text. The format the score now takes was a solution to this, and conveys the same information as did the text instructions except using only arrows and spatial design.
I had a particular sound world in mind. My first step towards instilling a sense of abrasiveness in the piece was to make a rule to keep all instruments out of their most comfortable, ‘ideal’ ranges. For the flute, for example, this meant confining most of its material to its uppermost and lowermost ranges, where it is respectively shrillest and weakest. I conducted my own experiments with the piano to determine unconventional means of playing it that would serve my sound world and settled on a percussion sound using the una corda pedal.
The design of the score itself lends to the abrasiveness. My instructions mean that the onsets of sound events are often clustered together, making for abrupt changes in dynamic and texture. There is also, I believe, something inherently caustic about the way the piece unfolds: my feeling was that the attentive listening taking place between performers gives it an anxious, erratic feel, and I was particularly interested in the way the proportions of the piece would be misshapen between performances.
See By Degrees for the evolution of this concept.