Beginning a flute solo

I – with the help of Hannah – have been progressively elaborating the basic concept of my new flute piece on and off over the last two or three months (the working title of which is warped passages). Today I actually made a start on putting some notes in the score.

At its base, the work is about systematically exploring some hidden ‘dimensions’ of the flute. Rather than just write another more or less successful flute solo (dear lord there are so many of them), I want to write something that takes the instrument itself deeply into the founding conception of the work.

As Adam Harper argues, musical instruments are musical ‘objects’, regions within ‘music space’ with more or less fixed variables, and space for variation. “Musical instruments are contexts in which musical variability is quantised and limited in various specific ways.” (Infinite Music, p. 42)

Along similar lines, Richard Barrett says in an interview concerning his recent work ‘life-form’ for solo cello:

for many years I’ve thought of instruments too as defining a space with many dimensions (also including time as a dimension), through which each composition traces a different pathway, constrained by the physical laws of the instrumental “universe” in question, which might cause dimensions like loudness, register and timbre to be inter-dependent in characteristic ways. The shape of the pathway becomes the structure of the composition; a notated score acts as a system of more or less precise directions along the way. (from the interview with Arne Deforce ‘Dialogue on life-form for Cello and Electronics’ in A Laboratory for Sonology, 2015, p. 148)

My starting point, then, is to try to construct an alternate path through this region of space and open up some different dimensions of the instrument.

The idea of the work then is to be based exclusively (or near exclusively) on 25 fingerings for notes in the 3rd register of the instrument (a quartertone scale from D to D), and its underblowings, which produce very curious derived lines, full of very micro-tonal fluctuations and non-standard timbres.

Because of the subtlety of the methods of sound production to achieve these various layers of underblowing, the work will manifest a different characteristic inter-dependence of dimensions (to borrow Richard’s words) to that of the flute in its ‘normal’ state. In particular, the underblown pitch is very closely linked to the parameters of dynamic, intensity of airstream, the rolling of the flute towards or away from the top lip, and perhaps articulation.

It is this interdependence that I find very interesting, and it provides a creative impulse for structuring the work. There are two things I find particularly fascinating at this point, which stem directly from the conceiving the underblown-instrument as an integrated system:

Firstly, the production of single tones, unstable multiphonics, and stable multiphonics of varying densities, emerges as a logical aspect of the system in question, rather than multiphonics appearing just as one reified technique amongst others to be deployed for colour or to sound modern or whatever.

Secondly, the interdependent parameters allow for a very interesting play with what is fixed by the composer and what is fixed in the performance act. In this work I’m trying to create a continuum from: 1) the pitch being fully determined in the score and the sound production parameters having to be managed by the performer in the act of performance, to 2) the pitches being specified but some other parameters determined also, creating potential contradictions leading to semi-indeterminate results in terms of pitch, to 3) situations where only the fingering and various sound production parameters are specified and pitch is entirely indeterminate, to 4) situations where only the fingering is specified and the performer improvises freely on the fingerings in the time-frame given.

There’s much more to say, of course, but that’ll do for now.