Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia, for string quartet, flute, clarinet and live electronics was premiered in February 2010. It is the first of a series of gesture-based chamber compositions called Gesticulations. The video is a heavily shortened document of the first public performance.

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The concept for this composition was to employ gestures and sounds derived from my application of the Buchla Lightning infra red midi controller as a compositional tool for an acoustic ensemble. I wanted to experiment with controlling an acoustic ensemble using a very similar gestural language to that I use when controlling a synthesizer or computer software. The piece also uses the Buchla Lightning/WiGi as a midi controller using STEIM’s LiSa and JunXion sampling and midi/audio processing software.

The details of the score are improvised live by the composer using a set of predetermined tools. The players have a key-sheet onstage reminding them of the four sections of the piece and of the conducting gestures used. This paper is an aid to memory rather than the score itself. The composer, through his gestures, is functioning directly as a “live” score. The group was roughly split down the centre so that two violins and viola could be conducted with the right hand and cello, clarinet and flute with the left. This gives a basic possibility of alternating pitch, polyphony, heterophony. In the present example it was only used in quite a rudimentary way – potentially it could be used in much more complex ways too.

My aim with this gestural scoring method was not to attempt to exert complete control over pitch and harmony (there are better scoring systems for that!) but to identify a gestural means of controlling rhythm, dynamics and amplitude, along with a general, I could say quantitative, control of pitch. This puts dynamic/gestural and textural control in the foreground. The approach I used also gave clear information regarding the relative direction of pitch and approximate intervals while leaving exact pitch and interval to be interpreted by the performers.

Within this process I also wanted to explore the extend to which I could guide an essentially classical notation-based ensemble towards a bold, energetic kind of free improvisation, bypassing the fear and tentativeness that often accompanies such excursions. I wanted to lead the musicians from almost completely determined composed/conducted material, through a series of strategies, to freer form collective improvisation.

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