About the Music
Alban Wesly visited me in 2012 to demonstrate the bassoon: The instrument is a long wooden tube that doubles back on itself, punctuated by a great number of holes and keys. The keys might be thought of as a quite complex "management system" to resolve a natural out-of-tuneness, but it was precisely the irregularities of intonation and color in the bassoon that attracted my attention. Alban and I found a way of organizing sounds which takes an "inside-out" view of the instrument: In thinking about each hole as a venting point governing the cycles of vibration and then subtly changing the interaction of these vibrations by opening and closing parts of the acoustic chamber below the open hole, we arrived at a series of irregular scales. These scales are made up of differently sized microtonal intervals and changing "behaviors." There are tones expressed in distinct timbres from bright to dark to fuzzy, and complex multi phonics ranging from highly dissonant rolling tones and roaring frictions consonant harmonies. Some of the sounds are highly localized, gloriously emerging from the bell at the top of the bassoon or circulating in quite specific regions.
Pinceladas was written for Peter Kolkay in 2016. The title translates as "brush strokes" and is an evocative image for the fleeting lines and fluid interplay of the bassoon and the piano. At times rhapsodic, at times skittish, the music unfolds through a number of short episodes punctuated by multiphonics in the bassoon. The two instruments play cat-and-mouse for much of the piece, sometimes dovetailing seamlessly and other times rudely interrupting one another. Moments of clarity are brief and fleeting: Rhythmic grooves are offset and obscured by jarring rests, rhythmic displacement, and playful grace notes.
Still/Alive is a piece that explores the tension between sudden juxtapositions and gradual change. Alternations between the highest register and gravelly multiphonics mediated by volatile bass lines create a sense of disarray. As the piece evolves, obsessive loops are formed and cells of materials are repeated and degraded through violent accelerations towards untenable speeds. The piece gradually shifts in emphasis from this highly gestural material to beating dyads nearly frozen in time, which trigger a different mode of listening. The title comes from the experience of these different kinds of time, times of overwhelming stimulation and activity, when there never seems to be a break, and times of meditation, stillness, and self-reflexiveness. This piece could not have been written without Ben, who was an invaluable collaborator and who graciously lent me his high school bassoon to experiment with.
be still, mobius, be still
be still, mobius, be still marks a period of pressure and vulnerability, and having to remain focused and poised amid a challenging time. Multiphonics in the bassoon are a focal point of the piece, used as a foundation for maximizing timbral and harmonic complexity within the trio setting. Using related fingerings, the multiphonics morph to and from a returning A-flat, and circular breathing across long gestures is required given the slow tempo, resulting in a shifting yet sustained surface texture. Dyads in the cello make use of harmonics as a way to maximize range and work with the clarinet to harmonize, reinforce, and contextualize elements of the bassoon's multi phonic spectra. The performers are asked to think of home. I ask also: What does tension feel like, and how can I focus that energy as a conduit for creative expression?
The Untitled 1B+
The Untitled 1B+ is the result of an intense performer-composer collaboration through the span of 76 months starting back in October 2019 until its virtual premiere on February 6, 2021. The piece is part of a collection of pieces written for a variable type and number of instruments of the same family, in this particular case, for bassoons. It can take four different forms: as a solo, as a solo plus fixed media, as a duet, or as a trio. It is formed by five distinct modules whose order is fixed but different depending on the number of performers participating. Although every single parameter and aspect of the piece is carefully and meticulously controlled, the score represents a series of open stimuli that must be permeated by the individual background, experience, and taste of the performer. Therefore, without being improvisatory, the piece can take varied shapes and trajectories. The aim is to build a kaleidoscopic texture of sounds and colors that result from the spontaneous and unique interactions of the momentum.