instrumentation: seven performers and a conductor

year: 2017

program notes

This is a hybrid work that uses improvisation and notation in tandem. It allows performers to supply their own materials within a controlled overall structure. Except for rare instances, dynamics are left entirely up to the performers in this piece. The same goes for rhythms and pitches. Instead, the score employs the same notation that is frequently used for flute tone quality to indicate the level of clarity (or opacity) of the music. For example, a passage showing an empty circle indicates very pale and ‘inconcrete’ sounds, whereas a filled-in circle indicates the opposite. I make use of half-filled circles and arrows to indicate middle-stages of clarity and transitions. I also frequently use full sentences to describe the kinds of sounds a performer should be supplying. It is obviously very difficult, if not impossible, to read such sentences and play in real time, which brings me to a very important point: this music is not meant to be sight-read. Although the music is mostly improvised, this is not a free improvisation. Musicians are expected to not only spend time with their own parts in order to decipher the sentences I sometimes write in advance, but also to read the full-score and know what to expect from other musicians in advance in order to make informed and thought-out decisions when it is time to play. Tremolo indications in the score do not refer to a specific tremolo, but rather to a general sound quality of shimmering or trembling. Each performer is free to interpret this indication on their own terms, although comparing and contrasting with each other during rehearsals leads to interesting results. The indication ≠, when notated underneath a note-event, specifies that whatever sounds the performer chooses to play in this instant should be different than the one played right before. Its opposite is indicated using %, in other words, the performer should play the same sounds again. This allows for a controlled rate of change that is composed and written into the score. Passages with the indication SOLO are left entirely up to the performer. I have chosen to color these boxes in order to make them easily legible by the performers. The rhythms written above these part do not indicate specific rhythms the performer must play, but rather a clear representation of the total size of the solo in question.

The later part of the piece includes vamp measures, meant to be repeated exactly for most instruments – except when indicated. Certain instruments are given SOLOs within these vamps. The total number of repeats is decided by both the performers and the conductor. In other words, there is a general ‘battle of wills’, or put in positive terms, an unspoken coordination that the ensemble needs to achieve. The conductor, while free to adjust tempo and character at will, is encouraged to react significantly to the musicians. It is not expected that the meters be executed mechanically and evenly, although this is an option. More than anything, the work requires flexibility and imagination on the part of everyone involved, in order to craft memorable, interconnected, organic materials within the overall pre-determined structure. Once again, I ask that all performers study the full score in advance.

The repeated vamp measures, as well as much of the work’s determined materials, are either drawn from or in reaction to Reiko Füting’s Weg, Lied der Schwäne. Both works were performed on the same concert by Amalgama, with Reiko joining the ensemble for the performance of Clair-Obscur on his primary instrument, the piano. I conducted both performances on that concert (both are available for viewing on Youtube at the links supplied below).


Featured performance
Amalgama with special guest: Reiko Füting, conducted by Michal Massoud, recorded live at Spectrum, Brooklyn, NY. 


download the score


Watch Amalgama’s performance of Reiko Füting’s Weg, Lied der Schwäne on the same concert