Date Completed: Fall '06
Part of Series: brokenAphorisms
(Please note: the "score" for this piece is actually a 7-foot tall four-sided column or pillar, as shown in the images. The actual score is unique, but the PDF has the music that should be on each of the four sides, as well as instructions for the individual players. It is probably impossible to follow along while listening, but it's fun to imagine the saxophone players constantly moving around the pillar as they play.)
Recording: Track 9 on
Fracture: The Music of Pat Muchmore
Performed by: Jeff Hudgins (soprano sax), Evan Rapport (Alto Sax), Peter Hess (tenor sax), Ken Thomson (baritone sax)
Thus far (early 2010), this is the only brokenAphorism which stands alone, not a movement of a larger collection. I don't expect to do this often, since it violates part of the point of the form of the series, which is to scatter chunks of larger musical ideas relatively haphazardly across multiple movements. However, this is made up for I think by the fact that this score is the most visually significant one I've yet made (see the page on the brokenAphorism series if this makes no sense).
I still gave names to the four main textures, which are still broken up and partially decontextualized as in other brokenAphorisms. They are "grunge", "hocket", "rotate" and "mobile". As in all works in this series, these words are combined with one another to refluect the general piece structure. In this case, I tried to mirror the quasi-palindromic symmetry of the composition. I'm pretty sure that "quasi-palindromic", in addition to not being a word, is a pretty rank violation of the English language. I just mean that the structure of the second half is more-or-less the reverse of the first half. In particular, the piece ends with a subtly altered version of the "grunge" section with which it begins and the "mobile" melody is the turning point of the piece. I'll use bold text to clarify the subtitle:
A major component of this piece is the visual of the four saxophone players circling the pillar, almost ritualistically, while they perform the piece. The players have to memorize their choreography (although the Collide quartet did mark a few color-coded cheats on the pillar, which are now a part of the artwork too) and remember which parts of each face to play and when to play them. There's a relatively small amount of music on the pillar, but the piece evolves and develops due to the style of each instrument, the relative timing of entrances, and the differing transpositions of the four instruments. I'll explain this last point in the next paragraph, which those of you already familiar with transposition can skip.
The soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone play music that looks the same. Even though the soprano is MUCH higher-pitched than the baritone, their bottom and top notes are notated in exactly the same place on the staff. This is how I'm able to write a single line of music and have it be playable by any of the instruments. If I write an E♭ at the top of the treble clef, then all four instruments might call it E♭, but the pitches that come out will be D♭ on the soprano, G♭ on the alto, a lower D♭ on the tenor, and an even lower bass-clef G♭ on the baritone. I exploit these different transpositions in order to get harmony and wider range out of the saxophone quartet, even though they're reading the same line.
And so anyway, the players move around the pillar and the piece gains its structure as a result. The "grunge" section takes advantage of the nature of saxophone tranpositions to create a huge power chord fanfare. We then hear a lonely saxophone playing a bunch of short, disconnected notes (a failed attempt at the "hocket" section) while the other saxes play a series of soft harmonies (these latter changing as the players randomly "rotate" around the pillar and play whatever note hits their eyes.)
One of the saxophones begins playing the somber "mobile" melody. As can be seen in the second to last picture on the images page, this is a melody which has multiple different pathways, sort of like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books you might have read as a kid. Every time a player repeats the melody they randomly choose a different pathway. As this continues, the short disconnected notes from earlier return, but now with two players instead of one. This begins to reveal the "hocket", though it is still fairly disjunct.
I should explain, for those who don't know, that a hocket is a musical form first written in the Rennaisance, wherein a single melody is chopped up so that each successive note is played by the next instrument. It is very difficult to perform well, but these guys are amazing.
Another saxophone joins in on the mobile melody, but they each take their own paths and never line up. The other pair plays through the "rotate" chords again. The original melody-playing sax leaves and joins this pair in an even closer version of the "hocket" which is now only missing one player, but has everyone on the wrong pillar face, and thus the wrong notes come out.
Everyone leaps to play the rotate chords one last time, now quite loudly. Finally united in purpose again, the hocket commences now with all of the notes sounding (notice that the gaps are gone) and everyone playing the correct side of the pillar. Then, finally, the "grunge" section from the beginning returns. However, two of the instruments are playing different sides of the pillar, and the harmony is a slightly broken variant of the original incarnation. The piece ends with a lovely bit of nastiness as each player performs their loudest, honkiest notes and/or multiphonics.
Man I love the Collide quartet. The hocket in this piece is one of the hardest sections of music I've ever written. Not only do they have to pass the running eigth-notes to each other (soprano-alto-tenor-bari-soprano-alto-tenor-bari-etc.), but they have to do it quickly and in a strange rhythmic pattern that constantly changes between various strange time signatures. The quartet—made up of Jeff Hudgins, Evan Rapport, Peter Hess and Ken Thomson—didn't even blink. They made it their own, and continued to push the tempo even when I told them they didn't have to. Did I mention that they had to do all of this in the midst of a relatively complex choreography around a strange sculpture that made it hard for them to maintain eye contact? Did I mention that I love the Collide Quartet?
Building the pillar itself was very complicated. First, it isn't easy to write lines that will make sense on all of the different instruments, especially a hocket that can be in the same sounding range and still be playable on both the soprano and the bari. It required a great deal of planning, but as I've mentioned before, these sort of puzzles get me off in the weirdest way. I also had to make sure that the piece could still have a dramatic structure that is actually worth listening to without resorting to choreography that could break ankles and horns. I hope that I succeeded.
My wife, Jenny Martin—who is an architect—did most of the work designing a pillar that could actually be built. It was particularly important that the thing could be broken in two for transportation purposes, and that required a healthy dose of her architectural brilliance. The two of us had a great time putting it together, affixing crumpled up aluminum foil, and painting it with some particularly gruesome earth tones. Our cat, Webb, was substantially less helpful during this process.
The idea for painting crumpled aluminum foil, which makes some nice drippy textures, was inspired by a Jean Dubuffet painting at MoMA titled Soul of the Underground.
COMING SOON (maybe)