Pre-Seed for flute and small ensemble, Commissioned by Richard Craig and support from the Polish Culture Ministry
“There are three main concepts that were being thought of during composing this work: texture, instability, and memory. These concepts were not considered separately, but as three connected elements: the quality of the texture should present an unstable musical process in which the question of remembering and forgetting would be addressed.
The issue of the texture was based on the idea of generating a sound-world that would consist of numerous very small articulations. This idea presented interesting implications, besides the purely sonic possibilities of establishing rich textural qualities. Essentially, the notion of a single short articulation was contemplated from several angles.
First, a short note articulated on an instrument is not yet a musical object, and therefore it is a seed of an object. From this point of view, there are various perspectives of perceiving the seed: from a normal distance – then it is normally perceived as a short note – or magnified in time – then it can become sustained. The next step along this train of thought is to zoom inside the magnified seed, i.e. when the sound object undergoes timbral modifications. Finally, the separation of the elements of timbral modifications, and articulating them in isolation represents the pre-seed level of the musical substance. In practice it means that on a flute, for instance, the following elements are needed to articulate a seed: air, tonguing, fingering, lip-pressure, mouthpiece position. Focusing on one of those physical aspects of sound-production makes an articulation of a pre-seed possible (e.g. a key-click, or an un-pitched air sound).
In this way, the smallest sound-components are identified, and the purpose behind this is to open up the possibilities of change in the texture to the maximum. If one works with larger chunks of sound, then the texture has a more solid and angular quality – but if the smallest grains are used, then the result is more elastic and tightly knit, and the texture can seem to curve and fold in many ways. This plasticity of the sound-substance makes it possible to explore the idea of instability as the central aspect of the musical process. As a result, the texture is built from interactions on a generally small-scale level, where any types of regularity and perceivable patterns are rare.
This general quality of the musical process was thought of as an apt context for applying the pre-seed idea in relation to memory. The way in which the question of memory is addressed was inspired to a large extent by Greek mythology, where the personification of memory is Mnemosyne, who is also the mother of the Muses. Moreover, Mnemosyne also presides over a pool in Hades, the water of which causes the dead souls to retain memory of their past lives. The counterpart of the pool of Mnemosyne in Hades is the river Lethe, and it is the water of forgetting. If the soul of a dead person drank from Lethe, it could forget its former existence and reincarnate.
These ideas are translated into musical terms in several ways. On the most basic level, the instrumentation reflects the Lethe-Mnemosyne opposition, as there is a single element that changes, and a plural element that is constant. The former is the soloist who changes the flutes, therefore it is the same yet different at each flute-change, and this represents the idea of forgetting that which has been, and repeatedly attempting to renew oneself. The latter is the ensemble, of which sound-quality is compound but unchanged throughout.
This organisation of instruments made it possible to explore the notions of memory and its loss in several ways, but especially from the point of view of the following question: are memory and forgetting two separate areas of consciousness, or do they overlap?
First of all, the actions of the soloist demonstrate that the two areas do overlap: for example, tongue-rams on alto flute and bass flute sound different, but they are different shades of the same colour. Consequently, as the same colours appear in various shades on different flutes, there is a sensation of having known this articulation from before – a kind of musical déjà vu. An interesting equivalent was found for the ensemble’s material: there is sometimes a textural or linear slice copied from a larger textural or linear phrase and placed before that complete phrase (sometimes immediately before, sometimes much earlier). In other words, an intact phrase is preceded (or pre-seeded) by its fragments (it is as if a soul did not drink enough Lethe’s water!). In this way, there are fragmented pre-echoes of complete textural and linear phrases, and this is closely related to the idea applied to the texture, i.e. the magnifying of a seed and splitting it into pre-seeds: here, a phrase is a seed, while its fragment is its pre-seed. In relation to memory, a complete phrase represents an intact memory, while its fragment is a remnant of the memory-loss. Just as in the soloist’s material, a musical déjà vu is written into the ensemble-component of the musical process. A curious conclusion that can be drawn from this is that forgetting precedes memory, as the memory-remnants pre-signal the intact memories from which they originate.
Lastly, one other important aspect of the pre-seed idea should be mentioned: pre-seed is the ultimate singularity (the smallest element), which inwardly pulls the musical matter towards decomposition. Of course, there is much sound produced throughout the work, with numerous substantial sound-structures characterised either by a high density of the texture or a high intensity of articulation. However, despite all the activity, there is an underlying tendency to fall apart and return to the core of the musical matter, which is the smallest sound-component. In essence, the process remains on the edge of disintegration – but a musical continuity is established nevertheless. It is this being at the farthest extent of instability – musically speaking, at the point of near incoherence – that is the fundamental objective of this work.”