About this work:
What one expects to hear and what one remembers hearing are intimately related. While listening to a new piece of music, a delicate interplay occurs between the projection of the mind’s ear and the reception of sound. Expectations are sometimes fulfilled, are at other times unfulfilled, or more commonly, are met somewhere in between recognition and surprise. Stark contrasts in music can be an effective way to play with expectations, but it is the murky region of partial fulfillment that occupied me during the composition of my guitar quartet.
The quartet is deeply influenced by the mbira dza vadzimu music of Zimbabwe’s Shona culture. This influence can be heard in several ways; the homogenous sound of multiple guitars and the compound melodies that emerge from their interaction are reminiscent of the mbira aesthetic. But there is also a harmonic similarity between the guitar quartet and some mbira music that accounts for the simultaneous sense of familiarity with the present and uncertainty about the future. Performed as part of traditional spirit possession ceremonies, a cyclic mbira song can last all night, with a basic harmonic sequence being repeated again and again, yet without necessarily any literal repetition of the music. As I listen to this music, I may think that I know where I am in the sequence, but over time that awareness diminishes and my sense of expectation and memory become intertwined. While there are certainly melodic and rhythmic components that impact the experience of this music with their repetition and elaboration, there are also some intriguing features of the repeated harmonic pattern that contribute to the weaving together of expectation and memory.
I have adapted several of these features for use in the quartet. For example, a palindrome is used throughout the piece in multiple ways. The effect of including these palindromes is that similar patterns of intervals can be heard in different parts of the piece, each reminiscent of the other. Please see the attached example of a 144 note series with the interval palindrome property used in the piece. The italicized numbers are the intervals between successive notes. Note that the intervals throughout the entire 144 note series are in palindromic form as the first interval is the same as the very last interval; the second interval is the same as the second-to-last interval, etc. Another feature is that the series is embedded within itself, going backwards and skipping one position. The brackets beneath each set of three notes are numbered and these groups have the same pitches as notes with the same number beamed from above. For instance, the group of three notes marked bracketed as “11” can be found beamed together going backwards at “11RA.” This contributes to a sense that what has already been heard was expected, and what is about to be heard is already a memory. It is possible to become lost in the cycles within cycles.
Year composed: 2004
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Guitar Ensembles
Instrumentation: 4 Guitar (Classical/Acoustic)