INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC


A selection of exercises and more experimental pieces written over the past five years.

Notes for: Karoun, Om Tat Sat Om, Ferinterence

Programme Notes

Karoun (2006)
Karoun, an ancient Greek term meaning “stupefy” (a condition thought to be caused by the compression of the carotid artery), was inspired by the image of a constrictor snake killing its prey, John Collier’s painting, Lilith, and horror movies from the 1950s. My interest in the first image lies in the stark perceptual contrast that exists between the prey and that of a third-party witness. In film or painting, the audience is often thought of as this witness, acting as voyeurs, removed from both the physical pain and, in the instance of death by constriction, a visceral connection to the savagery of a killing. The elimination of these sensory connections creates a cognitive disconnect, a numbness that limits the voyeur’s source of empathy to aural perception. Karoun emphasizes these limitations by juxtaposing the perspective of the witness with that of the prey (in film terminology, this technique is known as a “cut-in”), each represented as a primary component of a binary thematic structure.

Differences in melodic and harmonic development, contrary dynamic motion and timbral and textural modulation illustrate this perceptual disparity. The prey, initially distraught and breathy, in an intense physical struggle marked by sharp attacks and timbral friction and interspersed with moments of respite, gradually succumbs to the unrelenting and ever-strengthening persuasion of the predator, its final exhalation a soft murmur. Conversely, the witness sees only a muted struggle, bound to the dimensions of the snake, with which the prey eventually cedes all independence, a mise en scène constructed with the use of gestural and motivic expansion and diminution, echo and cycle, and textural and homorhythmic intensification (the latter established in a recapitulated motif that ends the work on a hanging climax). What began as a relationship defined by resistance ends as a twisted form of physical conformity.

Additionally, an ostinato, structured using a simple process of durational expansion and contraction and composed of a series of pentatonic-based triads, acts as a point of genesis for a harmonic composite that weaves together the partials of up to three separate fundamentals. At times, this results in a dissonant chordal mass that hints at the music of classic melodramatic black and white horror films.
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Om Tat Sat Om (2006)
Wake up the note! the song that had its birth
Far off, where worldly taint could never reach
In mountain caves and glades of forest deep,
Whose calm no sigh for lust or wealth or fame
Could ever dare to break; where rolled the stream
Of knowledge, truth, and bliss that follows both…

…No more is birth, nor I, nor thou, nor God, nor man.
The ‘I’ has All become, the All is ‘I’ and Bliss.

– excerpt taken from Song of the Sannyasin by Swami Vivekananda (1895)

Both the macro and microstructures of Om Tat Sat Om were inspired by the motion of stones skipping over water. Rhythmic motives, varying in scale, illustrate notions of prototypical skip patterns while pitch material exemplifies similar conceptions on both vertical and horizontal levels – jumping between fundamental tones and their correlative harmonics over shifting temporal values. Resultant intervallic movements become increasingly smaller, much like the distance between successive skips of a stone. In both piano parts, note clusters grow progressively more dense throughout the majority of the piece, representing the increase in the surface distortion of water caused by a skimming stone as it travels further along its pattern; minute rhythmic pulsations caused by conflicting harmonics ripple and fluctuate and increase in intensity. The pianos’ naturally decaying waveforms mingle with those of the percussionists, creating a wash of sound that subsides organically. Much like the final wake of the skipped stone, the harmonic mass slowly recedes, fading into the expanse from whence it came.

On both personal and general philosophical levels, this motion ties into Hindustani ideas of Oneness. A relationship further illustrated through varying degrees of convergence (both rhythmic and registral).

The title of the work references the mantra of Swami Vivekananda’s poem Song of the Sannyasin, written in the summer of 1895 in Thousand Island Park, New York – a small cottage community where my family has spent each summer for the past 50 years and where I’ve spent many a solitary moment, skipping stones across the inlets and bays of the St. Lawrence river.

Om Tat Sat Om was partially inspired by the final note of Giacinto Scelsi’s Piano Suite No. 10 Ka.
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Ferinterence (2007)
Ferinterence was inspired by Verlan, a French language game popularized in Paris and Marseilles by Algerian youth immigrants. It reinterprets the syntax of the language, manipulating word structures in a variety of ways that range from simple retrograde patterns, to those that permute syllabic content through inversion and both additive and subtractive processes. In Ferinterence, the initial syntax from which permutations are created is found in the rhythmic structures of the percussion. These rules, initially defined by a grammar based upon a composite of North African rhythmic patterns are then reinterpreted by overlaying voices, the result of which creates rich polyrhythms that, when combined with harmonic content consisting of a combination of two North African scales, shift gestural and motivic emphasis. A simple retrograde pattern also defines the macro structure of the work, slowly building from the timbral qualities of the aforementioned percussive monologue to a contrapuntal mass. This mass then recedes, augmenting the initial timbral emphasis. Written for the National Arts Centre.
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