Friday, 15 June 2012

Of Sound and Silence

Last week I organised a concert featuring John Cage's 4'33" and Yves Klein's Monotone-Silence Symphony, as well as works by local composers, including myself. The concert was the fourth in Frakture's series of acoustic music nights, Acoute, and took place on 7th June 2012.

In programming the event, I wanted to explore the relationship between Klein and Cage, between sound and silence. Both pieces were written within 3 years of each other. The composers were both interested in Zen Buddhism. Cage's piece was influenced by Rauschenberg's monochrome paintings and Yves Klein is most famous for his blue monochromes.

Klein's original version of the piece had 20 minutes of one continuous sound, followed by 20 minutes of silence. On the night, we presented a 'medley': 4'33" of all one sound, followed by John Cage's silence (apart from a rogue note in the third movement ;) You can watch a video of the performance below.

My piece, Of Sound and Silence, was written in response to Cage and Klein's. In it, I explored the idea of a  single note containing tension, tension that is only released in an explosion of harmony. I also explore 'silence' as a means to create highly textural, or timbral, music. One of the goals I set myself in this piece was a continuation of much of my work for orchestral forces of recent years, the democratisation of musical performance. Using a text score with a conductor, I set out to create highly complex textures and forms that would be impossibly virtuosic for the vast majority of performers.

A few years ago, I started using more aleatory techniques, alongside guided improvisation, in my pieces with this goal in mind. I wanted to create music with complex textures that could be played by musicians from a wide range of playing abilities. After discovering Stockhausen's text scores, I decided to try out the idea. Now musicians didn't even need to be able to read conventional notation, opening up performances to an even wider public.

One of the strengths of aleatory form is also its weakness. It's very easy to create textures that expand, diffuse, grow more complex and polyphonic over time, however the reverse is much more difficult to achieve. One of my aims in Of Sound and Silence was to find mechanisms that could coalesce the music, bring it together in moments of unity. This is something I will explore further in my next piece.

Here is a video of the performance:

The night also featured works by local composers, Richard Harding, Lucia Dunbar, Alex Raimi-Scott. If you go to the Klein & Cage video below, their pieces are also part of the same playlist.

Yves Klein - John Cage medley
Performed by the Novo Ensemble
Conducted by Simon Jones

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