Unravelling (2010)

Luciano Berio suggested that composition is always a kind of self-transcription. We are always interpreting ourselves, trying to find a way to express the vague notions that eventually become a piece but rarely (in my case, anyway) the piece that was envisioned at the outset. With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to try and interpret my own work. Music technology provided a means to do this that hadn’t previously been available.

Like most composers I work with notation software and digital recording software. Having cut my teeth in analog studios where the razor blade and splicing block were your constant companion, the new technology is nothing short of astonishing. In looking at how this stuff works I realized that I could use the technology to transcribe and interpret my own work in a way that I could never have done before.

I could take a score in the notation software and transfer it into the recording software so that only the most basic information, the essential pitch, duration, tempo, articulation elements, are retained. This created a new and entirely open context for the work. I would have a recording in which every instrumental part could be reassigned to different sounds – electroacoustic, sampled, whatever. What had been a violin part could now be played by a sampled percussion ensemble or some clangorous electronic sound. And I could edit and re compose the original based upon what was implied in the new context. I was wiping a part of the slate clean while retaining fundamental elements from the original - attempting to free my thinking about the music from the strictures of the instrumentation that had led to the music in the first place. By doing this I hoped to find things in the music that I would never have discovered its original form.

The first of these pieces is Unravelling #1. This is based upon the score to Canto I for string quartet. Very little of the original remains intact but I do think there are nuggets from the quartet that sneak through into the electroacoustic piece.

Anyone interested in the technical details of this process – drop me a note and I’ll be happy to explain.