Apheresis

September 2017
Trumpet and electronics
c.14 minutes

Written with and for Simon Desbruslais

First performed on October 9th 2017 at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic

This piece takes its cue from Berio’s Sequenza X (1984) for trumpet and piano resonances. A melodic cell made of first 6 pitches heard in Berio’s seminal piece is stretched way beyond its natural duration to provide the structural basis of Apheresis. What follows is an in-depth exploration of microscopic fluctuations of that opening cell, laid bare by extreme time-stretching processes. The resulting music is sweet and solitary at times but virtuosic and dense at others.

Programme Note

Apheresis is a response to Berio’s Sequenza X for trumpet and piano resonance. Taking its cue from the quiet but present piano resonances of Berio’s piece (vibrations that are set in motion by the theatrical trumpet gesture firing barbed sounds into the piano’s body), this piece explores the idea of resonance. Or, more accurately, several different kinds of resonance. The first of these is the resonant relationship between the live trumpeter and the electronics, with sounds captured, processed and returned to the auditorium. In this sense, the computer resonates just like Berio’s piano does. The pitch material for the piece is derived from the six-pitch collection expressed at the opening of the trumpet Sequenza, which brings a historical, analytical resonance to the music as well as a gestural one with borrowings from Berio’s palette of figures and articulations. So resonance has different timescales: it can be immediately heard there in the reverberation of the performance space; and it can be historically distant, with some kind of memory or knowledge called back to the present. Resonance concerns both the span of how many milliseconds sound takes to bounce and reflect around the performance space and the decades traversed by the invocation of relations between this piece and that.

More locally, resonance is explored using technology to provide the durational structure of the piece. The six initial pitches heard in section 1 (an expression of Berio’s pitch material) are recorded and time-stretched in real time. Each of the pitches provides the foundation for the five subsequent sections in terms of both pitch centre and proportional duration. This is analogous to the sympathetic resonances of the piano’s strings, but it extends that notion (as technology can) to encompass a much longer span of time. Each of the six pitches is stretched to mark out a durational span during which explorations of the trumpet’s capabilities are explored along with some familiar processes (e.g. delay, real-time reharmonisation and counterpoint through playback). But this time-stretching also allows us to hear the trumpet performance differently, with all the minutiae of microtonal fluctuation and timbral flux made available for us to scrutinise. It is this separating out of the grains of sound, the rapid vibrations that pass by in an instant in real time, that gives rise to the title of the piece. ‘Apheresis’ refers to a process through which the various constituent parts of blood can be separated out, to be analysed or used elsewhere. Analagously, the various constituent parts of the opening cell of this piece are separated out, to be analysed (during the compositional process and in performance) and used elsewhere, perhaps later on in this resonant continuum.

This piece was written for and with Simon Desbruslais. With the underlying scheme in place, Simon and I met in late May 2015 to explore and improvise. Some of that improvisation was transcribed and incorporated into the piece here (for example, the ‘Soliloquy’). Throughout the summer of 2015, the material and processing was worked out more fully, culminating in a rehearsal recording at the start of December. Each iteration and encounter with one another further refined and shaped the piece up until September 2017 as we prepared for the première at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic.

Performance Requirements

This piece is for trumpet and live electronics. It is preferable for the live electronics to be performed by a separate person in order to be able to achieve a good blend of electronic and acoustic sounds in the venue. The MaxMSP patch includes a straightforward, intuitive user interface so no specific knowledge of building MaxMSP patches is required to perform this work.

Equipment required to perform this piece is as follows:

  • A computer running MaxMSP
  • A mixing desk placed in a central location in the auditorium
  • An audio interface with a minimum of 2 inputs and 2 outputs (or more for a larger playback system)
  • A single microphone (e.g., AKG414)
  • Either 2 or 4 speakers, preferably with sub
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