As a composer, I have often developed visual maps of a composition, the music consists of sculptures. It is possible to zoom in and look for compositional techniques, intuitive and improvised solutions, to then again try to abstract and create techniques from what I did intuitively. There is a continuous interaction between the whole and the detail, between freedom and techniques. There are orchestral sketches to be composed out. I noted the continuum between sterile surfaces, blocks of concrete, modernistic architecture, and on the other hand full biological diversity, ornaments, a world of particles. The useful approach would not at all be a binary one, but finding paths through this terrain, cycles of crystallisation and decay. Plants invade abandoned cities and clear shapes are eroded and turned into particles by natural processes. These are all metaphors with potential connections to musical ecosystems.
Soto l’imperio del posente prince
"Soto l'imperio del posente prince" is a composition by Jacopo da Bologna, and a rapidly ornamented version is part of the Codex Faenza manuscript. Rather than composing a new piece based on this, we used the score from Codex Faenza together with the composition by Jacopo da Bologna, while searching for a vocabulary of timbral abstraction. I brought a list of four situations to rehearse.
- O: "Ordinario", close to idioms often used by early music ensembles.
- I: Fidels: Light bowing at the bridge, flautato, counterbalance the weight of the bow. (Common technique in works by Helmut Lachenmann.) Alternate with bowing on the body of the instruments. Recorder: Pure light noise sounds. Voices: Whisper only, inhaled/exhaled. (Joyce texts.) Organetto: Very fragile noises or barely audible flageolets. All: Find timbral micro-articulations and differences within the pure noise range.
- II: Fidels: Light circular bow, shimmering flautato sul pont. Use natural harmonics or constantly vary microtonal pitches. Recorder: Prepared fragile buzzing sounds. Voices: Half-voiced to whisper. Multiphonics and other vocal noises. (Joyce texts). Organetto: Glissando, bending, fragile sounds.
- III: Fidels: Rapid brushing sounds, spiccato arpeggios up and down on varying harmonics or slowly evolving glissandi. Brillante from ppp to mf. Recorder: Various flutter types on obscure rapid phrases, transitions between noise and tone, possible on/off preparations. Fantastico. Organetto: Contrast to the other instruments, instead of rich surfaces, choose slowly evolving ideas, sustain points, "drones". Voices: Short sudden outbursts, bubbles of sound, create silences, and avoid establishing patterns.
Let us add some more comments about these timbral situations.
- The ordinario sound is the common early music sounds, clean non-vibrato tones without any extended techniques. We called this the "surface", while the noise sounds were "submerged".
- The first abstracted version has a pure noise or whistle sound. It can be a challenge to avoid pitched sounds on the instrument. Helmut Lachenmann suggests bowing lightly at the bridge or at the body of a string instrument.12
- The second abstracted version was a shimmering, with emphasis on overtones, buzzings, and instabilities.
- I called the third abstraction the "Paganini" version, or related to the way Sciarrino has used abstracted virtuosity from the past in his 6 Caprices for solo violin.13
My timbral suggestions were schematic, as an exercise to find sound palettes for the ensemble. When those were established, they could be used fluently in transitions, patterns of "surfacing", "submerging" and erasing. After initial suggestions from me, detailed decisions were quickly taken over by the ensemble, and what you will hear is very much their versions of the piece.
Our first performance of this piece was linear – we were performing an existing score with altered sound qualities. This approach to quotation, a washed-out and erased reading, has been used by Gérard Pesson in his "Nebenstück" for clarinet and string quartet. In this filtering of the Ballade op. 10 no. 4 by Brahms, Pesson uses the whole piece in chronology, erasing notes, replacing notes with noise and alternative sound qualities, and stretching a few points of the piece.14 It is linear and true to the original. For the Wheels within Wheels project, it was useful to go closer to an original medieval composition after the extensive distortions and non-linear readings of "Nuper rosarum flores".
Following the suggestions from the workshop in Bergen, we performed a stretched version rather than the whole score as written. Jostein Gundersen, Hans Knut Sveen, and guest singer Berit Norbakken Solset decided to perform from the beginning, and augment note values of a few measures. These notes were filled by oscillations, breath sounds, sub-harmonic voice, timbre trills, and other abstractions. This stretching opened a new dimension to this piece.
We had two versions of "Soto l'imperio del posente prince", for the poor potent prince, at our final concert.