Echo Wall

July 2017
Trumpet in C and string quartet
20 minutes

First performed in July 2017 in Tianjin, China

Echo Wall is based upon a short proverb commonly (though not verifiably) attributed to Confucius: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand. The piece is not only named after the echo wall at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing but is inspired by its acoustic properties. Sound seems to travel around the wall and there’s a ‘sweet spot’ right in the centre at which sound expressed at the perimeter is amplified and focussed. In this sense, Echo Wall explores spatial properties of the ensemble and invites the passing-around of musical ideas, as though an echo around the wall itself.

Background

Echo Wall is for trumpet in C and string quartet. The piece is based upon a short proverb commonly (but not verifiably) attributed to Confucius (which reflects my work with the Confucius Institute at the University of Hull as part of the ‘Chinese Whispers’ project in the summer of 2017). The three-part structure of the proverb often permeates the way the piece has been constructed. The piece is not only named after the echo wall at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing but is inspired by its acoustic properties. Sound seems to travel around the wall and there’s a ‘sweet spot’ right in the centre at which sound expressed at the perimeter is amplified and focussed. The proverb reads as follows:

聞之不若見之,見之不若知之,知之不若行之

I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand

Echoes are explored in several ways. The first echo is that of spoken language being reflected in music. On July 4th 2017, Monica and Martin from the Confucius Institute at the University of Hull very kindly agreed to be recorded saying the proverb in their mother tongue. From this, I translated the speech into musical material by focussing on the pitch contours and rhythms of the language by time-stretching to extract the smallest nuances in pitch and by exploring the inherently metrical qualities of the language. This recording provided all of the pitch material that underpins the melodic and harmonic content of the piece. The rhythm of the proverb is explored in a very direct manner in the second section. Echoes are also explored in the way the ensemble is deployed, with ideas being passed around and mutated from player to player. The spatial arrangement of the players (explained opposite) is crucial to the way the material unfolds. Improvisation plays an important part in this piece as players are offered different kinds of freedom and are invited to shape the music in various ways. This is the final echo: from composer to performer. The performance of the piece is conceived very much as an echo of my initial utterance, with the players echoing this back to me and for others to hear in the future.

The piece comprises three sections, which can be played in order: 1. I Hear…; 2. I See…; 3. I Do and I Remember.

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