Fiery Verticals

January 2018
Flute and electronics
12-14 minutes

First performed on February 1st 2018 at the Middleton Hall in Hull, UK by Selina Slater

The title of the piece – Fiery Verticals – is borrowed from Francis Bacon’s approach to caging in the dark, despairing and godless figures in his paintings of popes. Bacon places these figures within a transparent cage, constraining and trapping them, rendering their isolation palpable. In an analogous way, the flautist battles for their space inside the cage-like structure of the electronics part; recognisable but desperate to escape. In this piece, the flautist is asked to make tiny adjustments to embouchure, position and fingering patterns while the electronics part morphs the live signal randomly (but nearly-predictably) within a closely-constrained cage of possibilities.

Programme Note

The title of the piece – Fiery Verticals – is borrowed from Francis Bacon’s approach to caging in the dark, despairing and godless figures in his paintings of popes. Bacon places these figures within a transparent cage, constraining and trapping them, rendering their isolation palpable. These noble figures in their resplendent garb are robbed of their inherited dignity by the spindly cubes that hem them in. Just so for the flute: no opulent, gaudy morceaux-de-concours floridity or Pan-like idyllic evocations here. Instead, this object and its qualities are laid out in a new frame, ready for interrogation.

For all the discomfiting crisis of Bacon’s style, it’s the detail in the brush-strokes that fascinates me. How does he get those teeth to appear so hellish? How does he render the torment so pitiful? For this piece, I wanted to step as close to the flute as I invariably do when I’m in front of a Bacon canvas. The close-microphone technique allows us to attend to the tiniest fluctuation of air, whistles, intonation and timbre. Amplify that and stretch it beyond its time (not unlike Bacon’s obsession with popes) and there, revealed, is a microscopic world of sound that is so easily lost through the distraction of desiring a linear melody.

In this piece, the flautist is asked to make tiny adjustments to embouchure, position and fingering patterns while the electronics part morphs the live signal randomly (but nearly-predictably) within a closely-constrained cage of possibilities. The flute, so undeniably horizontal, is made vertical through live processing and warping.

Performance Requirements

This piece is for flute 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 centrally in the auditorium
  • An audio interface with a minimum of 1 input and 2 outputs (or more for a larger playback system)
  • A close, clip-on mic (e.g., DPA4060)
  • Either 2 or 4 speakers
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