The waves which have kept me from reaching you
This piece marks an emergence from a kind of writer's block of mine when it came to writing more deterministic scores. I was attempting to find a way of arriving at the kind of aesthetic space that was fascinating to me through means other than traditional notation by making 'ecologies' using text instructions, rather than scores that describe a linear path of activities or sounds. I felt like I hadn't really succeeded yet, and in a time where I was feeling quite energised (after Perth Festival 2018), this piece emerged almost out of a necessity to turn this energy into something more concrete. This resulted in this piece, one which (to me) shows the influence of my earliest musical loves fascinations very clearly (Igor Stravinsky, Talk Talk, J Dilla) in tandem with recent ones (Michael Pisaro, Jürg Frey, Moniek Darge, Graham Lambkin, James Rushford et al). It was written for an ensemble of friends for a fairly informal concert at Perth's Spectrum gallery.
It is still a very open-ended work. Though the material is (mostly) prescribed, where it appears in time depends on decisions made by the performers, and many of these decisions have ripple effects as to how the other members of the ensemble can act; some decisions give others permission and others effectively delay it. The score offers undulating degrees of flexibility and precision, and the various gradations of this are a source of much of the tension in the work. Each performer needs to take a degree of responsibility as to the form of the piece, and the other ensemble members have to find ways of reacting, with moments of possible rest and respite offered to each throughout. My way of composing this piece essentially is a description of a musical situation that I felt could result in something very beautiful in my own imagined way of organising it, but it is open enough to enable the pursuit of very different ways of playing it. I hope it is very possible to play this piece in ways that are quite risky or strange, if the ensemble are trusting of one another and share a vision of how it could be. I'm gradually working on making more and more parts of the score open in this way.
The friends for whom this piece was written are all improvisers, and I really like the ensemble sound we have together. The original version of this piece finished with an improvisation to allow us to explore this, and perhaps to ask questions about what such a decision meant for a piece like this. Through discussions I had with Michael Pisaro & Antoine Beuger, I began to feel that this was perhaps too extreme for this piece: given that the composition is always moving between different degrees of fixity, it was perhaps too radical to suddenly take the piece to the maximum level of openness (the opposite extreme would be to finish the piece with a fully prescribed section). This has since changed into an offering for a kind of meditation on what occurred during the piece as part of the piece itself: the ensemble can interpret this very openly, in any way that feels compelling to them, which certainly includes this possibility of improvising, but in a way that is perhaps encouraging rather than demanding. Recently, I was also inspired by Sage Pbbbt's recent piece narrows, expands, elides, which also finishes with a kind of shared meditation (an 'ellipsis', in her words), and the results from the premiere performance were devastating: a long silence that, strangely, reduced many to tears. I don't expect my own piece will do this! But I'm definitely interested in what it means to offer such a space within a piece, not hurrying out of it.
The title of the piece comes from a poem by Frank O'Hara, which only appears in the piece itself in a fragmented way, whispered in the second-to-last movement. The waves in the poem, and its various other metaphors, are hopefully captured through the way that the performers in this piece sway between a narrow and wide listening focus.
Finally, this piece is still a work-in-progress. Ideally, I would like to develop it in a recording studio, exploring post-production techniques as part of the piece. One aspect of the score is the use of effects processing on some of the instruments, extremely scarcely: one or two notes per page might be delayed or distorted. After ending up with the first recording of the piece, the effect of this is a little more subtle than I would like - I want to explore how such effects in this level of scarcity can act as small ruptures in the 'realism' of the piece. Things such as amplification, delay and (electronic) reverb actually seem very strange to me at times; I sometimes feel a little disoriented when these things are used simply as mixing tools, or employed almost by default. I try to use them to put the ensemble out of context or distort the listener's perspective on the ensemble with this processing, perhaps as a way of drawing a listener deeper into the 'real' listening situation by relating it to other possible, more imaginary ones.