Suspicious Motives

Eric Chasalow

About this work:
Suspicious Motives was composed at the request of Boston Musica Viva for a November 19, 1999 concert --one in their two-season series of concerts celebrating the ending and approaching millennia. Given this context, I find myself looking back at how and why I have spent twenty years struggling with the media of electro-acoustic music. The first of my pieces for traditional instruments in combination with prerecorded electronic sounds was Verses and Fragments for horn, percussion and tape (1979). With a National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship in 1983 (the first NEA program canceled), I composed three more pieces – Hanging in the Balance for cello and tape (1983), The Furies, for soprano and tape (1984) and Over The Edge, flute and tape (1986). All were realized in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. At the request of various performers, I continued composing in my home studio and, latter at the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio (BEAMS), creating Fast Forward, for percussion and tape (1988), Out of Joint, trumpet and tape (1994), and most recently, ‘Scuse Me, for electric guitar and tape (1998). Over the years, the technology available to me has changed dramatically, from the hand-made cutting and splicing of the analog studio, to MIDI automation and, currently, graphical computer-based sound editing environments. While the newer tools have made the process of realizing electronic music much easier, my fundamental musical approach to these pieces has not changed much. At the core is the tradition created by the work of Mario Davidovsky. In this tradition, one uses prerecorded sounds to expand upon the acoustical characteristics of the live instruments – the real origin of the “hyperinstrument” concept. What may be obvious is that the timbre of a traditional instrument in performance may be changed by adding electronic components – a kind of heightened orchestration. Less obviously, the envelope characteristics of each note (attack, sustain, decay) may also be changed by electronic sound. The later technique leads to nothing less than a new level of counterpoint, where the succession of changing kinds of attacks (hard and short or long and sustained, for example) transforms the shape of phrases. While my studio technique derives from Davidovsky, the musical character is quite different. My instrumental writing is often at an energy level drawn from my experience with improvised Jazz. My recent electronic music reflects this as well. By adding layers of manipulated recordings of spoken or sung text, the sound of the human voice often emerges in surprising ways. Suspicious Motives, like the concert series for which it was composed, looks both backward and forward in time. It is an homage to Davidovsky, relentlessly saturating the texture with two motives from his music – primarily the opening to Synchronisms #6 for piano and electronic sound. It also recapitulates old motives from my own music. The electronic portion often sounds quite classical, as if it had been made in an old analog studio, but these sounds are layered with and enriched by vocal samples, including one word extracted from an interview with Davidovsky.
Year composed: 1999
Duration: 00:08:00
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 2-5 players
Instrumentation: 1 Flute, 1 Clarinet, 1 Violin, 1 Cello, 1 Prerecorded Sound (Tape/CD/Other)
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