FiFty Fanfares is scored for 34 trumpets and 16 trombones which are spatially distributed in a large space. Example performance locations include shopping centres, foyers in large buildings and concert halls. Each player uses an iPod touch to provide cues and synchronisation information for the performance. The technology to perform the piece us available from the composer.
Time’s Arrow is a phrase coined by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington in 1928 to describe the effect of time, forwards and backwards, on physical processes. He noted that the one-way property of time, which has no analogy in space, is found in physics only when observing changes in degrees of randomness in a given system (otherwise known as ‘entropy’). All other physical processes are, in theory, ‘time symmetric’ – in other words, they are the same both forwards and backwards.
Our consciousness, on the other hand, has an acute awareness of the direction of time, as Eddington knew. In terms of human experience (such as the performance of a piece of music) time is irreversible. The arrow of time points from past to future, and the experience of events (or music) unfolding makes no ense at all if it is reversed. To some extent, the process of writing a piece allows the composer to step outside this notion of time and to define relationships that refer both forwards and backwards within the timeline of the music.
The ‘arrow of time’ has been applied to thermodynamics, particle physics, cosmology, acoustics, and many other disciplines. Just as these fields of scientific research look at disparate states and the processes that affect them over time (order versus randomness, heat versus cold, energy versus inertia), my piece explores contrasting musical states where strictly notated rhythms are juxtaposed with more freely improvised sections of music, where order and randomness of pitch co-exist.
The word ‘synapse’ comes from the Greek: ‘syn’ meaning ‘together’ and ‘haptein’ meaning ‘to clasp’. In the field of neuroscience, the term ‘synapse’ refers to the tiny gap between neurons in the nervous system. Across this gap signals (chemical neurotransmitters) are transmitted between neighbouring neurons in the form of ‘stop’ or ‘go’ messages. The status of the message is defined by the concentration of positively or negatively charged ions entering the receiving neurons.
The concept of a ‘musical synapse’ is represented in this piece by the apparent gap between sounds that emanate from the real instruments of the orchestra and the electronic sound-world that is triggered, articulated and shaped by the orchestral instruments. In some respects the triggering of these sounds parallels the ‘stop’/‘go’ messages of the synaptic nerves. The electronic timbres comprise materials which were pre-composed in the studio and sounds of the orchestra which are transformed in real-time during the performance.
“Synapse” is in one continuous movement with musical ideas derived from a single scale which traverses the entire range of the orchestra from contrabassoon to piccolo. This ‘super-scale’ provides a degree of harmonic focus for the work and characterises the many complex textures that are explored by the orchestral forces.
The work was commissioned by RTE for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Much of the initial work on the piece was undertaken during a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan.
This piece is my response to the modern phenomenon of urban graffiti. I am always struck by the proliferation of graffiti when travelling by train, tube or bus through major city centres. It has become an integral part of the contemporary urban landscape, reflecting many of the facets of our society and youth culture. The practice shows no sign of slowing down despite the best efforts of councils and local governments to stamp it out. (A trawl through the internet will reveal the strength of feeling on this subject in many US cities.) Often one can see two types of graffiti: that which is known as ‘tagging’ of walls and vehicles, and what one might call the high-art, colourful, large-canvas works on walls and streets. Many of the artists creating the latter type have become international figures within the contemporary art establishment.
Large-scale graffiti works, which are often highly charged, intense and emotive, were quite influential in this piece and are reflected through the gestures and energetic nature of the musical material.
Off the Wall uses mainly extended techniques on the four instruments, with the performer
s often playing in the highest registers and at times using the whole body of the instruments as sound producers and resonators. Many passages involve frantic glissando gestures (which, coincidentally, look like a form of musical ‘tagging’ on the score). The material of the piece borrows ideas from my work in electronic music where sound objects are created, polished and manipulated in a musical discourse that has its own logic without conforming to conventional notions of melody and harmony.
Off the Wall was commissioned by Music Network for the New Helsinki String Quartet and supported by the National Lottery though the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The work was premiered on 1st November 2001.
Crossing the Threshold brings together my interest in conventional and unconventional sound sources through the interaction of musician and computer. The title relates to both musical and technical ideas of the piece. In the former case it reflects the division of musical ideas into conventional and unconventional playing techniques: throughout the piece the violin explores techniques that are on the boundary or threshold of the sound worlds of pitch and noise. In the latter case the title refers to the process of interaction: the violin is tracked by the computer and interacts with the performer when certain thresholds of loudness are crossed.
The work is dedicated to Darragh Morgan and was commissioned with funds from the Arts Council of Ireland.
This piece explores the concept of ‘containers’ as resonators of sound. The wooden body of a violin or any other stringed instrument, the metal or wooden tube of a woodwind or brass instrument and the shell of a percussion instrument or drum are all specially tuned ‘containers’ designed to amplify and enhance the timbral qualities of the sounds produced when the instruments are played.
In this piece I have used very simple containers such as jam jars, metal tins, wooden boxes and other objects to act as resonators for the source sounds that are used in the piece. The resultant sounds are subjected to further transformation using a computer to act as a ‘virtual resonator’ (for example adding reverberation, filtering and time-stretching).
This work was commissioned by 2000 Galway Arts Festival with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland. It was premiered on 22 July 2000 at the Containers Exhibition, Galway Arts Fesival, Aula Maxima, National University of Ireland, Galway.
The music for Patina was created for a collaborative installation with the visual artist Barbara Freeman. From the outset of the project we agreed that the installation would focus on metallic surfaces and objects. These items provided a shared ‘resonance’ which on one hand creates the surface detail of Barbara’s visual work and on the other hand created the timbral detail of the electroacoustic music.
My piece explores these sounds by transforming them into long lines which reveal the inner spectral qualities of their sources. A cracked bell-like object is struck and frozen in time just after the attack of the sound has ceased; a rusted beer keg which was scraped with a wooden stick becomes stretched twenty or thirty times its duration and reveals sonic details which would otherwise pass unnoticed. All these sounds are mixed in a slow-moving collage. The rate of change mirrors the stretched nature of many of the transformations and the ear should be drawn to the subtle shifts of colour.
Most of the sound materials for this piece were recorded around the farm buildings and outhouses at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig. They were transformed using the advanced computer facilities at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver and later mixed using the studio facilities at Queen’s University. The piece was premiered in the Ormeau Baths Gallery on 14 May 1998.
The initial ideas for this piece came at the end of 1994 when I was working at Stanford University, California. It was only a matter of weeks after the cease-fires had been declared in Northern Ireland and several months since our local butcher in Crossgar had been murdered; both these events had been on my mind and for the first time I felt a strong desire to comment in some way on the troubles which have blighted all our lives for so many years. Macha’s Curse is a personal response to this. It is a work without political, programmatic or symbolic references. Instead it attempts to capture some of the complex emotions which have touched so many lives in the Province.
The work is in two large sections. The first section is fast and homophonic, the second is an interlocking series of slower homophonic blocks which draw harmonic and rhythmic ideas from the first section. Across the span of the piece there is a general thinning of musical material; the dense, high-pitched harmonies of the opening eventually become widely spaced timbres and single lines in the closing bars.
Macha is a mythological figure in Irish history who, in one of her tales, is forced to run a race against the horses of king Conor mac Nessa. She is pregnant with the twins of Crundchu at the time. She outruns the horses but is seized with the pangs of childbirth. As revenge she casts upon Ulster a curse for nine times nine generations.