Times in Kampflieder

In a previous post I ‘decided’ on the basic metric stratification in Kampflieder. However, I’ve since rethought this aspect. With a more rigorous approach to group definition, I’m not putting so many eggs in the sub-division basket, since the differentiation of the groups is more thorough and rests on many different parameters. This allows me to relax the stratification of the individual sub-divisions to be kinder to the performers…

Part of the problem was that if each group has a different subdivision, and within each group there are different sub-divisions, I would need many different nested tuplets. Which would perhaps be fine if writing for MusikFabrik or whoever, but I want the performance by the Melbourne Met to sound good.

This is not a matter of compromising – at least I hope not. It’s more a matter of making sure that where a certain parameter has to be somewhat restricted in its range, others are broad enough to create an expansive vision.

Regardless, if I really wanted to push the metric stratification further, I would need to have multiple conductors or click-tracks. Something I might pursue in the next big work.

In any case, what I will do quickly here is outline where I’m at with the macro- and middle-range temporal structures. This should give a feel for the ‘poly-temporality’ of the music (Coulembier).

Macro-level time

Firstly, there is what could be called the primary structural layer. It is the layer that gives the major sections to the work. This is based on the song ‘Der Rote Wedding’ by Hanns Eisler. This is slowed down massively at the start with around 28 semiquavers (at quaver=120, or 28 semi-quaver triplets at quaver=80, which is the actual tempo at the start of the piece) between beats of the song. This has a more or less exponential crescendo to the end of the first section of the song, where there is around 4 semi-quaver triplets (at quaver=80) between beats. This then brings in a new section in the work with a new tempo (quaver=90). During this section the structural song slowly expands in time (and deceleration) until it reaches about 31 semi-quavers (at =120) at the beginning of the third section, which takes a tempo of =120 and across which the structural songs accelerates until it is less than a quaver between beats at the very end of the work. At each change of section, a different group takes up this fundamental layer (while maintaining its own material), firstly it’s group IV (string quartet), then group III (percussion, trombone, bs clarinet), and lastly it’s group V (mixed).

Two things to note: while the space between beats of Der Rote Wedding expands and contracts across the work, and fits within different ‘surface’ tempi, it nonetheless is based on a consistent tempo which is quaver=120. Which means that only in sections (such as the final one) that have this tempo does the structural song have a simple relation to the metre.

The other thing is that while there is a (more or less) directly linear/exponential process of expansion/contraction of the beats of the structural song, because this song has its own syncopations and melodic rhythms, what actually enters the score, and what will be heard, is something less obvious. The overall process of acceleration or deceleration should be audible, but only after some time and with some red herrings thrown in.

What I like is the idea that the macro-level can move between a kind of deep-structure to a surface-level and back again, occupying at different points, different perceptual levels and interacting in different ways with the other elements of the work.

Middle-level time

Next there is the deployment of the different groups over time. I chose to do this by way of a ‘mensural canon’ – not of their micro-rhythmic structures, but of the medium-range time of their entrances and exits. Something like a ‘phrase rhythm’. This was conceived in bars, or part-bars. And these were the proportions:

Group I: 7

Group II: 6

Group III: 5

Group IV: 2

Group V: 4

So this meant that for a four bar ‘phrase’ of group V (heterogeneous mix of winds, brass and strings), group IV (string quartet) only has a two bar, and group I (solo horn) has seven full bars.

The opening sequence of proportions goes like this:

Group I: 7 – 7/8 – 1 ¾ – 7 7/8 – 1 ¾ – 2 5/8 – 8 ¾ – 2 5/8 – 3 ½

Group II: 6 – ¾ – 1 ½ – 6 ¾ – 1 ½ – 2 ¼ – 7 ½ – 2 ¼ – 3

Group III: 5 – 5/8 – 1 ¼ – 5 5/8 – 1 ¼ – 1 7/8 – 6 ¼ – 1 7/8 – 2 ½

Group IV: 2 – ¼ – ½ – 2 ¼ – ½ – ¾ – 2 ½ – ¾ – 1 – 2 ½ – ¾ – 1

Group V: 4 – ½ – 1 – 4 ½ – 1 – 1 ½ – 5 – 1 ½ – 2 – 3 ½ – 2 – 1 ½

The numbers apply to different types of structure, in a repeating sequence: full group – solo – rest. Over time, the full group sections reduce while the solo sections (where only one instrument from the given group play) increase (the rests remain fairly constant). This means that the texture progressively thins out across the first two sections. I’ll talk a bit about the meaning of this and how it relates to the songs of Kampflieder in a later post.

On thing to say about this is that while the number sequence above is based on a number of fairly simple additive or subtractive numeric processes, this comes (in a very Ferneyhough-type way) to interact with the bar structure itself which, while based on 4/8, has many little ‘kinks’ within it, which affect the smooth function of both medium-level rhythms and micro-level rhythms. This is evident if you’re working with the bar as your basic unit. So, if a phrase length is 3 bars and those bars are all 4/8, then it’ll be fairly long, but if the three bars are 3/16, 4/16 and 5/16 (as sometimes happens in the work), the phrase will be substantially shorter. Again, like the macro-process of the structural song, what you’ll eventually here is the underlying tendency, which does not have a one-to-one relationship with its micro-level instantiations. Well that’s the idea, the aim is that these tendencies will be audible, but at the same time, but that the local-level stuff is not perceptually redundant…

There’s a lot more to talk about, especially regarding the micro-level temporal structures (rhythms), which I’m currently working out. But that’ll be another post.