Flute, Guitar and Piano

flute guitar and piano: score available here

One thought on “Flute, Guitar and Piano

  1. I started composing this piece writing very long and homogeneous passages for piano. I then tried to combine this piano part with guitar arpeggios that had been written separately. This rather unusual combination gave me the idea to add a flute, which I found the guitar was suggesting quite naturally. The choice of an electro-acoustic guitar was made in order to adjust the dynamics of the three instruments. A classical guitar with amplification would have also been suitable, although I found the long resonance of the electro-acoustic particularly appropriate.

    This piece, more than others in this folio of compositions, addresses the problem of the necessity of audio-scores. This work does not contain micro intervals or difficult rhythms; what calls for this setup here is mainly the distance between the musicians. As evidenced in the video, one of the main achievements in this piece was to place the instrumentalists considerably far away from each other, which naturally invited the dancers to utilise the whole space.

    The audio-score was also necessary to synchronise the musicians and the tape. The electronics in this piece had a role of a resonator, which was efficient in such a reverberant space, but required to keep in time with the tape. Thus, the natural resonance of the live instruments and the electronics resulted in a very similar pitch content, and the ambiguity that emerged between the two provided interesting results. In spite of the great distance between the acoustic and digital sources, the reverberant acoustic of the church allowed the sounds blend together organically.

    The tape was realised using as a source material a pre-recorded MIDI maquette version of the piano and guitar parts. These two instruments can, unlike the flute, be simulated in MIDI without the result sounding too artificial, due to the percussive nature of their sound. This recording was then processed through a Max patch whose most interesting feature is a spectral delay. This module re-synthesises the sound and repeats its different spectral components at different times. The outcome can be very diverse, sometimes behaving like a standard delay line, sometimes decomposing the morphology of the sound, prolonging the reverberation of a chord, or only components of it, in the manner of a filter.

    The resonance in the electronics of an element played by a performer on stage is typically a live electronic gesture. However, here it is realised by a fixed tape, allowing for more control, and less risks in a performance situation.

    There were not enough rehearsals with the musicians for this piece. Keeping in time with each other is sometimes difficult in new music. When the rehearsal time is insufficient, the anxiety of the musician can become apparent, and this feeling of insecurity can interfere with the musical statement or atmosphere he wants to convey to his audience. Playing with an audio-score system provides assurance in such difficult situations.

    I was very concerned before the performance with the sort of disparity between a metronomic execution by the players and the floating quality the music is supposed to have. Because I wanted to allow for more flexibility in their interpretation, I sent each performer two different files: one with a click track at Crochet = 30 and a second one with Quaver = 60, I informed them that I preferred the first version, but they unanimously chose the faster one (60), so this is what we had to use in the end.

    The click track allowed, amongst other things, some sudden echoes between flute and piano. In subsequent performance I might consider not using a click at all. Instead, the performers will be provided with cues in the earpiece indicating the pitches they have to play, without bars and beats, in proportional notation. This way the performer could play with more freedom, without the need to count, repeating with a slight delay what is heard through the earpiece.

    I was pleased with the overall result. My only criticism of this interpretation was that the character and energy could have been more intimate and fragile. The musicians played the notes in correct time, but in my view it was a bit too loud, and the dancers were sometimes too active.

    The diagram below shows the different wire and wireless connexions used in this piece.
    A computer plays the electronics, while an iPad sends the audio-scores to the three performers: through wires to piano and guitar, and through a wireless Bluetooth connexion to the flautist.

    Figure 54: Flute, Guitar and Piano, technical setup
    The computer and the iPad were manually triggered at the same time, at the beginning of the piece, allowing the whole ensemble to play in time until the end.

    As briefly mentioned above, this piece was composed in a different way than others in this portfolio: I wrote instrumental layers one after the other. The idea came from the consideration of early historical models such as: improvisation on cantus firmus, polytextual motet, or isorhythmic tenor against duplum. All of these techniques assume the pre-existence of one voice before the other. I started with a long, rather monochrome section of piano, resonant, in high register. What interested me most with this material was the way fragments were repeated, and how what comes next could be enhanced if it used the same notes differently. There was consciously no use of transposition or intervallic proliferation. The notes, cells or fragments would just be repeated, with very little transformation. This repetition without transformation, although very fragmented, contributes to the feeling of stasis described earlier. It also contrasts with the idea of development, which would be more directional. In the following extract, displaying only the piano part, each cell has been framed with a different shape: a rectangle, a rectangle in dotted lines, a diamond shape, and an ellipse, in order to highlight how the fragmented iterations occur.

    Figure 55: Flute, Guitar and Piano, repetitions in the piano part

    Other repeated cells are found in this passage, like the perfect fourth D-G (bar 66 and 69), or the major ninth C-D (bar 78 and 81), but they are only repeated very locally.

    The guitar part was also composed separately during the first stages, with its own harmonic rules, limited only by the possibilities of the instrument. As I was exclusively looking for resonating chords, the ‘rule’ was to find one note per string, using open strings as much as possible. The extract below is a presentation of the first bars of the guitar part. Although the guitarist played from the full score, only his part is displayed here to highlight its internal repetitions. The capital letters indicate the order in which the chords are presented.

    Figure 56: Flute, Guitar and Piano, repetitions in the guitar part

    The guitar part was composed by trying out chords on the instrument. The tablature notation was kept as it made reading easier for the player. I intended to develop a simple idiomatic feature, using relatively high positions on the fret board while striking the strings in a natural order (from thumb to the little finger). As a result, the arpeggio turns into a more complex melodic line.

    Figure 57: Flute, Guitar and Piano, tablature extract

    When I started assembling the two instruments, the piano harmonies often had to be modified in order to respond to the guitar more naturally. It was only at this stage that I felt the combination with a flute part would enhance the piece considerably. The flute’s part was often extracted from the piano material, which is why these two play exactly together in some passages, despite the great distance separating them in the space.

    Although the three performers worked sufficiently on their individual part, we only managed to organise one rehearsal with flute and guitar before the concert (I played the piano). On the day of the performance, the pianist played with the flautist and the guitarist for the very first time, which demonstrates both a weakness of the piece and a potential strength of audio-scores: for a player following his audio-score, there is very little change between the performance situation and a run-through with his audio-score at home, and this allows for a shorter rehearsal time. This touches on a paradox related to placing musicians apart in a room. While putting the audience in the centre of the space, with musicians around, the listener gets a clearer idea or sensation of the dialogue between them, which is one of the great aspects of chamber music, but at the same time the further the performers get, the more this dialogue is jeopardised as they can’t hear each other properly.

    In spite of the problems that may arise in mutual listening, having performers extremely distanced from one another added a spectacular dimension to the piece, as can attest the video submitted in this folio. For the listener, an effective balance was found between the natural reverberation of the space (as a unifying factor of the global sonic image) and the disparity of the acoustic sources (instrumental and electronic sources all coming from different directions). The acoustic property of this set-up, in my view, strongly contributed to the immersive quality of the piece, which is possibly its most successful aspect.

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