Music from Afar Duration: 3:03:00
Poem in Depression at Wei Village (1965)
Instrumentation: soprano/flute/viola/cello/piano Duration: 8:00
'Poem in Depression, at Wei Village' is a setting of a translation by Arthur Waley of a Chinese poem by Po Chi. The song is, first, a response to the challenge of making something bigger than a miniature (in both manner and size) out of a miniature text. Secondly there is an attempt to create a coherent harmonic language by serial means. The series is grouped into four three-note chords (heard in the opening bars) which, towards the climax of the work, are made to clash with triadic outbursts in the piano part which are not derived from the series.
Copyright (C) 1966 Tim Souster
Songs of Three Seasons (1965)
Instrumentation: Soprano and viola Duration: 12:00
Settings of poems by Pablo Neruda, Ted Hughes and Li-Hou-chu.
Two Choruses (1966)
Instrumentation: 7 part choir or seven solo voices (SSATTBB) Duration: 11:00
1. Voices (Caliban's dream from The Tempest). Duration 4'.
2. I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day (Gerard Manley Hopkins). Duration 7'.
Instrumentation: 2 percussion
Piano Piece No.1 (1966)
Piano Piece No. 1 was written for Roger Smalley and first performed by him a the Mahatma Ghandi Hal, London in 1966. The structure of the piece is a simple alternation, ABABA, though this structure is often articulated by a unity of mood rather than by literal repetitions. Towards the end of the piece thematic fragments from the two earlier sections are re-introduced although they are dashed togethether in a kind of collage.
Copyright (C) Tim Souster
Study for Organ (1966)
Metropolitan Games (1967)
Instrumentation: 2 pianos Duration: 10:00
Kyrie March (1968)
Instrumentation: 2-part childrens choir/percussion/piano
Titus Groan Music (1969)
Instrumentation: Wind Quintet/ring modulator/amplifiers/two-track tape
Chinese Whispers (1970) PLAY MP3
Instrumentation: 4 to 8 players using a variety of percussion and electronic sound sources.
Conceptual work based on the process of imitation and inevitable distortion familiar from parlour game of the same name. Duration variable but normally between 10' and 20'.
Triple Music II (1970)
Instrumentation: 3 Orchestras Duration: 38:00
Orchestra 1: Strings 12. 12. 12. 10. 8
Orchestra 2: 2pf,2hp,cel,vib,el.org, org, bs gtr
Orchestra 3: 3 fl(+picc), 3 ob, E flat cl, B flat cl, bs cl, sop sax, bsn, 2 con bsn, 6 hn, 3 tpt, 3 trbn, tba.
Waste Land Music (1970) PLAY MP3
Instrumentation: sop sax/elec org/piano/synth Duration: 30:00
Just as the Eliot poem with its references to Arthurian legend, many world religions, Tarot cards, sacrifice and redemption, sends one back to Jessie Weston's book From Ritual to Romance, so this book in turn sends one back to the vegetation ceremonies which predate Arthurian legend by thousands of years, to the religions of the ancient world in fact to Frazer's The Golden Bough. Part IV of this huge work is devoted to three ancient gods, Adonis, Attis and Osiris. Eliot drew heavily on Frazer in The Waste Land and in the music the two essential elements in the ceremonies surrounding these gods, sacrifice and resurrection, have been taken as the framework for the form. There are six sections of music arranged in three pairs: Osiris I and II, Tammuz I and II, and Attis I and II. The music of each pair of movements is substantially the same, but the ending of the second (resurrection) movement transforms the character of the music with completely new material. The six sections enclose the five sections of Eliot's poem and is in no way 'incidental' to it. The sections can be arranged in many different orders and can be performed independently of the poem. But it is specifically designed to create a tension, in its six-part form, with the five-part form of then poem. The music constantly goads and stimulates the text, rather than flattering and reassuring it. This is the most fruitful relationship for music and poetry.
The Tammuz movements are a lament modelled on Japanese Gagaku music, a literal transcription of which is the starting point for a gradual transformation away from the modal, effected by means of decoration and modulation. The soprano saxophone takes on the role of the Japanese oboe (the hichiriki), and the Japanese mouth-organ (the sho) is imitated by the electric organ. The Japanese flute is played on a generator of the synthesizer and parts for drums and plucked stringed instruments are rendered on the piano (inside with drum sticks on the frame and out, respectively).This is the most explicit exotic reference in the work. However, the whole music, I hope, is full of an archetypal, ceremonial, ritualistic feeling, now austere, now orgiastic, in which the ancient legends are steeped. It was this feeling, and the numerous references to music in the legends it must have accompanied them unceasingly which suggested much of the music more so, indeed, than Eliot's text itself.
Spectral (1972) PLAY MP3
Instrumentation: viola/live-electronics/tape-delay Duration: 15:00
Spectral is played entirely on the solo viola, the bass range of which has been extended by tuning the C-string down to G and then by transposing its sounds down further by digital means. Spectral takes as its starting point the song of the hump-backed whale, of which the opening ARIA is an exact transcription.
The subsequent sections are developments of its individual elements. The tape echoes were suggested by the whale's submarine acoustic environment, in which its melancholy tones rebound alternately off the sea-bed and the surface as they die away. The title 'Spectral' relates not only to the sound/colour spectrum used in the music, but also to the ghostly character of the song in which the whale seems to be singing of its own passing.
Copyright 1972 Tim Souster
World Music (1974)
Instrumentation: 8 players/4-channel tape
Player 1: B flat cl/sop sax/alto sax/bs cl
Player 2: bsn
Player 3: vln/vla
Player 4: el gtr/bs gtr
Player 5: perc/drum kit
Player 6: elec piano/synth
Player 7: el. Org/el.pno
Player 8: el. Pno/synth Duration: 73:00
World Music is a large-scale composition for alternating sections of tape and instrumental music which converge at the end. The piece was begun when I was composer-in-residence at King's College Cambridge. Most of the instrumental music was written straight away but it was not until the end of 1973 that I could begin to realise the tape part of the composition. At that time I was living in Cologne and the West German Radio commissioned me to make the tape part in the Studio for Electronic Music. This took about four months. The first performance of the whole composition was given by Intermodulation in the Beethovenhalle, Bonn, in December 1974 as part of the West German Radio's series of public concerts 'Musik der Zeit'. The new scoring for eight players was completed in January 1980.
Although the instrumental parts were written first, the initial idea for World Music relates to the tape part. In 1971 I had the idea of writing several musical orbits of the earth, as if a satellite were encompassing the earth in 360 seconds (= 360 degrees of a circle), its path over the various countries, seas, oceans and islands suggesting (or rather determining) certain kinds of material, certain formal proportions.
I planned out three orbits as accurately as possible with the help of a globe. The first runs from Seattle, Washington, on the North-West coast of the USA in a south-easterly direction; the second runs from Vienna in a southerly direction and the third from the island of Bali in a north-westerly direction.
In the orbits, I have not used any music from the countries overflown (a kind of noise pollution in the reverse) but used the concept as a means of finding certain formal proportions in the music (the sudden rush of activity and change characteristic of the land-masses gives way to the immense calm of the oceans in all the orbits) and of finding an instrumental sound as typical material for etectronic transformation on tape in each orbit.
The train of thought by which each instrumental colour is arrived at in each orbit is rather complex. In the first I chose the electric guitar, the single notes extended by means of feedback. Seattle was the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix (to whose memory World Music is dedicated) and fedback guitar was elevated by him into a subtle, not just a violent, form of expression. But his shadowy role in World Music is manifold.
I always thought of Hendrix as a 'natural' spaceman, somebody who would be truly 'at home' in space, although the idea of him ever having made it out there is absurd to us. Nevertheless in his short life he gave us more ideas of the space experience, even though he'd never been there, than all the banalities of the mid-western majors and flying lay preachers that the media treated us to. The phrase 'scuse me while I kiss the sky' from Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' echoes throughout World Music. Another structural function of the sound of the electric guitar in the first orbit is that it relates to the electric guitar writing for the live instrumentalists later in the work. The second orbit takes the viola as a referential sound. Vienna, the dead centre of Central Europe, is typified for me in the music of the classical string quartet, and again the connection is not arbitrary because most of the material of the instrumental sections of World Music is derived from the all-interval note-row which Alban Berg used in his Lyric Suite for string quartet. Tiny fragments of this work are also embedded in the electronic sections of World Music, and the sound of the live viola is- never far away in the instrumental sections. In the third orbit the sonorous resonances of Balinese music are echoed in the gong-sounds which are superimposed, slowed down and speeded up on tape. Gong-sounds are also typical of the percussion writing in the instrumental sections of World Music. In one section we hear the 'crossing' of two elements of the piece: the exact rhythmic structure of a Balinese piece rendered in terms of dissonant harmonies derived from a serial note-row.
In fact the instrumental music is constantly referring to the structures and playing techniques of 'world music'. We hear antiphonal music based exactly on the rhythmic structure of a particular piece of choral music from Ethiopia, heterophonic sections in which a single melodic line is played at different speeds by several players simultaneously, and music based on riffs common in jazz and rock music. In World Music theriffs sometimes accompany cadenzas in which each player in turn comes to the fore as soloist.
World Music is a huge complex of interrelationships which one cannot really make clear in words. But the basic idea which I hope will emerge from the 60 minutes is that the title is an ironic one. To stress this, in the closing section of the piece where tape and instrumentalists finally play together, I have included particularly banal and cant-ridden utterances from ex-Presidents Nixon and Johnson about the oneness of little old earth and how lovely it looks from out there 'as God sees it' (Nixon's actual words).
Copyright 1980 Tim Souster
Song of an Average City (1974)
Instrumentation: orchestra/tape Duration: 22:00
In Song of an Average City I have sought a collision of elements: the natural sounds on tape are always in conflict with one another and with the orchestral part. There is no conciliation between them in the form of gradual sound-transformation. Nevertheless there is a close rhythmic structure governing the natural sounds and the way they relate to the the orchestral music.
Everyone will recognise the sounds on tape: footsteps, breathing, writing, machines, gun-fire, traffic, cash-registers, amusement-hall games sounds typical in fact of our experience as individuals, as members of groups and as members of a mass sounds of any average city. But these familiar sounds are used to articulate new structures. A guillotine becomes a road-leveller, a violin cadenza is punctuated by a cash-register, orchestral passages are caused to travel through various changing environments.
Through this kind of concrete music I have tried to show the innter-relatedness of all aspects of our experience, but an experience which, because of the basic contradictions of the society in which we live, is turned against iteslf.
Copyright 1974 Tim Souster
Instrumentation: sop sax/tape-delay/3 drummers Duration: 12:00
The first stimulus to the composition of Zorna came from a BBC television documentary by Tom Mangold shown last summer , on the global structure of drug trafficking and addiction. I was particularly struck by the irony of the situation revealed in the film whereby people in high places contrive with immense profit to transform the crops of the Thai or Turkish peasantry into means of killing people on the streets of New York.
At about the same time as this film was shown I happened to make the acquaintance of the Turkish oboe (the zurna). Ever since then I knew I must write a piece in which these two stimuli would fuse into a single monochrome musical paroxysm. This eventually became Zorna.
I have always been stimulated by the act of transcribing unfamiliar musical phenomena. The transcriptions can serve as musical models which are subjected to very radical processes of transformation. In parts of Waste Land Music I refer to a piece of Japanese gagaku music. In Spectral to the song of the hump-backed whale, and in World Music to material from Ethiopia and Bali.
In the case of Zorna it is worth pointing out that the 'source' for my composition was a certain track on a Turkish record from the Argo 'Living Tradition' series. This is relevant here because I have not slavishly imitated it, as if I were putting an exhibit into a glass case. I have taken as a starting point the extraordinary 'sound' of this particular track rather than the music's pitch structure or its rhythms. What impressed me most about the recording was the way in which the zurna creates a single melodic line of unflagging intensity; often sounding as though two or three intruments are playing at once, not quite in unison.
This suggested to me the use of a tape-delay system in conjunction with the soprano saxophone whereby the instrument's own sound can be mutiplied by a controllable number of times. In composing my paroxysm (NB. the German for anger is Zorn), I was concerned to achieve a form which is at the same time strictly unitary and constantly evolving.
Copyright 1975 Tim Souster
The Music Room (1976)
Instrumentation: trombone Duration: 15:00
The Music Room was commissioned by James Fulkerson in 1976 and first performed by him, assited by Stephen Montague at the Wigmore Hall. The tape part was realised at the Keele University electronic music studio which I had just begun to set up. One of the origins of the piece lay in the discovery, made during equipping the studio, that a firm which was supplying me with amplifiers, loudspeakers and so on, also had contract with the army. Not convinced that there was any great enthusiasm in the military for electronic music, I eventually found out that sound was being developed by them as a means of interrogation and crowd control. In Northern Ireland, IRA suspects had been subjected to highly amplified white-noise over extended periods of time as part of interrogation by means of 'sensory deprivation', the effect of which was heightened by the use of blindfolding and loose fitting clothing. The consequences of this procedure were no joke. Not a single terrorist was unmarked by these means and several guinea pigs suffered severe, permanent psychological damage. The British government was eventually condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for allowing these techniques to be used. The area where the interrogation took place was called 'The Music Room'.
Another example of the use of sound by the military was the ill-fated 'Squark Box' developed for crowd dispersal on the street corners of Belfast and Derry. An army boffin discovered that a frequency of 10,000 cycles combined with another of 10,004 cycles would produce a strong subsonic difference to render queasy, nay incontinent, the suspicious groups gathered on the aforesaid street corners. Unfortunately for the encumbents of the armoured cars who were broadcasting this dangerous material, the sound-systems proved insufficiently directional. The army started to be taken just as short as the supposed enemy. No such dire effect on an audience by this work has yet been recorded!
In the music, which is not a political tract but which presents the above material in an ambivalent way, the electronic sounds are contrasted with a march tune which is 'Lillibulero', the regimental march of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Afghan Amplitudes (1976)
Instrumentation: elec keyboards/percussion Duration: 9:00
Afghan Amplitudes was written for the group OdB in 1976. Its title is a reference to the tendency of jazz-rock super groups to call their music by rather overblown names, such as 'Astral Artifices'. I decided to start a whole series of poieces for the group using 'A A' titles. Others I completed were Arcane Artefact, Aquatic Ambiences, and Arboreal Antecedents.
The scoring of Afghan Amplitudes reflects the desire to fuse together aspects of free-form live-electronic music and the rhythmic precision (and elision) of jazz-rock. I was also trying to write music with recognisable tunes in it, but which had a broad musical range and in which the tunes and the abstract textures merged into one another in a coherent musical continuum.
Copyright 1983 Tim Souster
Arcane Artefact (1976)
Instrumentation: amplified keyboards/percussion/tape Duration: 14:00
Instrumentation: synth/elec organ/piano/percussion Duration: 15:00
I have long been fascinated by and attached to the music of the Beach Boys so, when in 1977 I was commissioned by Merseyside Arts to write a new work for the concert to be given by my group OdB at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, I composed the tribute that had been echoing round my mind for some years. I had already made a short studio composition based on Beach Boys material called Surfit which was issued on the record Swit Drimz the previous year, but in Song I wanted to explore the material in greater depth and write a genuine concert work for the group to play.
Nevertheless, to achieve the density of sound which was occasionally required I used a four-channel tape to 'back' the three live players. But the material of Song is very homogeneous. It is entirely a 'quotations piece', but, as it contains nothing but quotations one is not really conscious of specific references, nor are any meant to obtrude. (As Carl Wilson says in the opening quote, what matters is the feeling created by the sound.) The tiny 'loops' taken from Beach Boys songs are deployed by the players, with a certain degree of freedom, in reaction to the tape part and to each other's playing. The deeply layered textures which result are analogous to the extensively multi-tracked voicings of the original songs but, because of the combinations of many different tonalities and the repetition of almost subliminally small harmonic progressions, the effect of Song is very different from that of the songs themselves. The work is a distant, fog-bound evocation of the Californian dream of sun and surf. Alas, it only lasts fourteen-and-a-half minutes.
Heavy Reductions (1977)
Instrumentation: tuba/tape Duration: 10:00
Heavy Reductions takes a stage further the Victorian piano reductions of Wagner's Ring on which I was weaned. They combine turgid, unpianistic textures with highly flowery English translations of the German. This piece is an even more radical paring down of the opening os Das Rheingold for a single melody instrument. By means of tape techniques I have re-created a whole Wagnerian orchestra of tubas, discovering in the process that whole passages from the Rheingold Prelude could be reconstructed by electronic multiple echo techniques. The period quality of the work of the work is further emphasised by the recitation by the soloist of Wagner's stage directions which are so often ignored in modern metaphysical productions of The Ring.
Copyright Tim Souster 1977
Arboreal Antecedents (1978)
Instrumentation: 3 instrumentalists and 4-track tape Duration: 22:00
Written for the group 0db
Driftwood Cortege (1979) PLAY MP3
Instrumentation: Computer generated 4-channel tape Duration: 8:00
Driftwood Cortege was written during the summer of 1978 at the Computer Music Course held at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University, California. It started life as a simple exercise in the manipulation of Leland Smith's SCORE programme. However, getting used to the completely new procedures and habits of mind inherent in this composing programme was an onerous and sometimes maddeningly frustrating task. But, as is often the case with an intractable medium, perseverance pays off. I decided to extend the exercise into a fully fledged composition.
Even so, the harmonic, rhythmic and formal aspects of the Cortege are extremely simple. It is in other areas that the computer comes into its own, allowing the composer to control the music in much more precise and subtle ways than is possible in conventional media. These areas are timbre (tone-colour), distance, and movement. The timbres used in the Cortege are those of live instruments simulated by means of Chowning frequency-modulation instruments, although their realism is constantly called into question. There is considerable use made in the piece of the computer facility which makes the sound seem to come from an extreme distance from the listener. In fact the piece is presented in its own artificial acoustic, that of a large cathedral in which a procession of instruments seems to draw near towards the central climax of the piece and then gradually recede again into the distance. The idea of this acoustic was prompted by the composrer having witnessed the blessing of the winning horse in the Palio in Siena. This involves bringing the horse into the cathedral accompanied by hordes of ecstatic supporters beating drums and blowing trumpets. The 'Driftwood' part of the title referes to a Californian beach north of San Simeon which I visited during my time at Stanford. At this totally secluded and mysterious place, littered with huge, bleached tree-trunks like pre-historic carcasses, I had an almost religious revelation of nature in its pristine state: a fleeting vision of the world before time.
Copyright 1982 Tim Souster
Instrumentation: cello,piano,fl(+alt,picc),ob(+cor),Eflat cl,bs cl,bsn,tpt,tba,percussion Duration: 35:00
The Sonata was commissioned by the BBC for the Nash Ensemble of London who gave the first performance on BBC Radio 3 in August 1980. The cello soloist was Christopher van Kampen, whose playing I have always greatly admired. The Sonata was written almost entirely in the United States during the twelve months (1978-9) I spent there on a US/UK Bicentennial Arts Fellowship. The two-movement structure of the piece reflects the fact that the work was written part in California and part in New York City. But the music is not literally descriptive of those antithetical environments and the basis of both movements was in any case all written in California.
The whole work is held together not only by the primacy of the cello (the cello cadenza at the end of the first movement either weaves together seamlessly thematic threads from the two surrounding movements of the work or abruptly flashes backwards and forwards between them) but by the references made to certain aspects of jazz and popular music.
The first movement is a set of harmonic variations on the opening slow piano melody. This is a jazz form, with the soloists commenting in constantly evolving ways on a fixed set of harmonic changes. The Duke Ellington 'chamber music' combination of piano and a few wind instruments is relevant here; and in one variation (where the solos are shared by cello, bass-clarinet and tuba) a figuration from the Duke's piano part to Mood Indigo momentarily breaks the surface.
Just before the climax of the first movement, the eight chords on which the second movement is based are heard in the bass register of the piano and wind instruments. When these harmonies reappear, after the cello cadenza, they are massively expanded, functioning as the whole structure of the second movement. The eight chords are in fact four cadences, four resolutions of the same dissonant chord in four different consonant directions. The dissonant chord is quite a complex one consisting of ten notes and is related to the magnificent 'apocalyptic' chord in the first movement of Mahler's Tenth Symphony.
The Sonata, after a violent section featuring the percussion finally resolves itself on to a D-minor-seventh chord-section which I call Disco-Coda, for obvious reasons. (The coda is in fact not a little influenced by Donna Summer's 'I feel love'.) In this short peroration the whole harmonic progressions is re-run, like a speeded-up flash-back in a film. Although, as I have said, the Sonata is not descriptive music, nevertheless the two main influences of Manhattan (with its fantastically lively and multifarious jazz tradition) and California (with its breathtaking natural beauty) are clearly imprinted on the music.
The Sonata is dedicated to my two daughters, Rebecca and Joanna.
Copyright 1983 Tim Souster
Instrumentation: brass quintet/live electronics Duration: 13:00
Soon after the Sonata was completed I returned to the medium of live electronics in writing Equalisation for Equale Brass. Indeed, this commission was a result of the participation of John Wallace and John Jenkins of Equale Brass in the first performance of the Soanata.
I've long been interested in the extension of instrumental resources by electronic means, so when the Equale Quintet invited me to write a piece for them I decided to write in a part for a sixth player controlling a range of devices which would extend the sound of the five brass instruments. The title Equalisation is a slightly ironic reference to the technique, often used in rock music recording, of filtering a sound in certain ways to heighten its effect. Officially, the filtering is simply meant to make the output as equal to the input as possible but in fact the natural sounds of the is often changed quite radically, and indeed, creatively.
In my piece I use two main devices to extend the range of the brass instruments. One is a digital delay line which can be used to create an artificial acoustic, from that of a small bathroom to something like the Grand Canyon. The opening horn solo gets its feeling of spaciousness from the slowly repeating electronic echoes which surround the sound. (And this electronic solution is much cheaper than flying Mike Thompson and his audience to Colorado for the performance.) The delay line also has the means of storing little samples of sound which can then be made to play back, repeating over and over like a tape loop. The loop can then be transposed in continuous glissandi or even in discreet steps throughout several octave leaps, as happens in the middle of the piece.
The second main device I use in Equalisation is a pitch transposer with which I can add a parallel part to the live music at any interval between an octave below the original to a perfect fifth above. This can be heard very clearly at the beginning of the fast central section of the piece. Here the two trumpets swap short phrases and the transopser can be heard adding parallel intervals to their music, first at a semitone's distance then a tone, then finally at a minor third, at which point all the other instruments join in, similarly doubled at the minor-third below.
It's no coincidence that these intervals are prominent in the piece. Together with the descending fifth, they are present in the very opening bars, and are stressed again in the subsequent horn solo. In fact they are prominent intervals in the natural harmonic series and it's on this series that the harmonic structure of the whole piece is based.
In both Sonata and Equalisation, and indeed in all of my works like Mareas, Driftwood Cortege and The Transistor Radio of Saint Narcissus, I've been trying to create a coherent but flexible musical language in which consonant and dissonant intervals are given equal value. I think music today has reached a kind of plateau: almost anything is possible. But it still behoves the composer to forge a coherent expressive language out of all this multiplicity. In Equalisation and Sonata, I have attempted to find a language which is simple but which can articulate wide-ranging musical processes when necessary. What matters is not the means used, whether technological or traditional in itself a distinction which should never have to be made but the sonorous results.
Copyright 1983 Tim Souster
Instrumentation: 4 amplified voices and 4-channel tape Duration: 16:00
This work is based on two poems by Pablo Naruda, which are about the ocean. The principal poem is Mareas ('Tides') and inserted into it is El Mar ('The Sea'). Both of these texts are concerned with the Pacific Ocean, which not only flanks the whole of Chile, but also links it to the Californian coast which has been a source of inspiration to Souster on other occasions: Driftwood Cortege for computer-generated tape and the related Sonata for cello, piano, seven wind instruments and percussion.
The tape part in Mareas makes use of what at the time were advanced sound processing techniques made possible by voltage-controlled technology and by the cross-synthesis of vocal and natural sounds by means of the vocoder.
The Transistor Radio of Saint Narcissus (1983)
Instrumentation: flugelhorn, live electronics and tape Duration: 00:23:45:00
The idea of using the flugelhorn cam partly from the experience of recording some arrangements with Equale brass for Nimbus Records the previous year, and partly from a long-standing fascination with the rich and languorous sound of many of Miles Davis's early recordings where the flugelhorn is featured. Its lyrical fullness of tone is matched by an extraordinary range, from the lowest pedal tone on the B flat below the bass stave to the F sharp or so above the treble satve. First experiments involved recording lip glissandi on six fundamental tones, yielding six series of overtones. From these series four basic 'matrix' chords were derived, each of which comprises eleven to thirteen notes stretched out like an overtone series. Mirror images of the 'matrix chords' extending below the range of the flugelhorn were created using the Fairlight CMI. These new 'synthetic spectra' provide the harmonic framework as well as the timbre-world of the work. The idea of the mirror image either in pitch or time dominates the work, relating to the title which refers to a passage in Thomas Pynchon's book The Crying of Lot 49. The heroine is reminded of her first sight of a printed circuit-board by the layout of a new housing development in San Narcisco, Southern California.
She drove into San Narcisco on a Sunday, in a rented Impala. Nothing was happening. She looked down a slope, needing to squint for the sunlight, on to a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth, and she thought of the time she'd opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang to her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of intent to communicate. There'd seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute of San Narcisco, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding. Smog hung all round the horizon, the sun on the bright beige countryside was painful; she and the Chevy seemed parked at the centre of an odd, religious instant. As if, on some other frequency, or out of the eye of some whirlwind roatating too slow for her heated skin even to feel the centrifugal coolness of, words were being spoken.
Moments of 'revelation' or heightened understanding occur at nodal points in the work where different sets of frquencies interlock to form some larger structure. The key nodal point lies at about 19 minutes, where the tape falls silent just before the coda. Here the flugelhorn melody is derived from cyphers in Pynchon's book. The bass line is a mirror of the melody, and the harmony is created by live digital transposition of the melody. It is the performer who triggers these events, enhancing and extending electronically the resources of his instrument.
The shape of the work also reflects the idea of revelation in a process of changing focuses on a journey down through the layers of the sound spectrum. It starts with the noisiest distortions of the flugelhorn, concentrating on the upper reaches of the spectrum. The work moves down through the simple and more complex sound mixtures of the middle regions, to the euphony, consonant harmony, and regular rhythm of the lowest region in the codad whic is a microcosm of the whole work. The sound of a transistir radio being tuned in, the emergence of the four 'matrix chords' out of the static, morde signals, bass line and percussion, and fically the flugelhorn melody lead to the point of arrival. a perfect cadence based on the flugelhorn's B flat fundamental tone.
Le souvenir de Maurice Ravel (1984)
Instrumentation: fl/ob/cl/vln/vla/cello/piano Duration: 25:00
The starting point for this piece was the following poem by George Seferis:
The garden with its fountains in the rain
you will see only from behind the clouded glass
of the low window. Your room
will be lit only by the flames from the fireplace
and sometimes the distant lightning will reveal
the wrinkles on your forehead, my old friend.
The garden with the fountain that in your hands
was a rhythm of the other life, beyond the broken
statues and the tragic columns
and a dance among oleanders
beside new quarries
misty glass will have cut it off from your days.
You won't breathe; earth and the sap of the trees
will spring from your memory to strike
this window struck by rain
from the outside world.
The 'M.R.' in question turned out to be Ravel and the image of the isolated composer sitting in later life cut off from the garden by the clouded glass seemed an extraordinarily poignant metaphor and one which was more than simply biographical. (As Ravel grew older he gradually fell prey to a rare form of mental and physical decay whereby he would suddenly find he could not remember how to speak or how to move a limb.)
In his music, too, Ravel sometimes seemed to be searching for the unattainable or at least looking forwards towards a time when music completely different from his own would be written. Works like the Mallarm Songs or the Sonata for Violin and Cello are far more challenging and forward-looking than Ravel is usually given credit for, not to mention the 'minimal' Bolero.
In my own work I wanted to highlight this progressive tendency in Ravel's music by taking aspects of his style and leading them on into musical situations which Ravel himself could not have contemplated. I call this technique of stylistic manipulation 'surrealistic pastiche'. In it, frequent use is made of the blurring or 'going in and out of focus' alluded to in Seferis's poem. But there are moments of clarity and precision too.
The 'dance among oleanders' is abrasive and angular, but it, too, eventually fades back into the mist of memory. This 'souvenir' of Ravel is therefore at the same time an embodiment of the faculty of memory and a tribute to a great composer.
Copyright 1984 Tim Souster
Curtain of Light (1984)
Instrumentation: metal percussion/tape Duration: 11:00
Curtain of Light is a quiet meditative piece in which both the soloist and the tape part explore a wide range of metal percussion sounds, from small high-pitched bells and whisper chimes to deep sonorous tam-tams, accompanied by changing levels of light. The piece was written in 1984 and dedicated to the memory of the composer's mother.
Paws 3D (1984)
Instrumentation: orchestra Duration: 17:00
Countless millions have enjoyed the 'Tom and Jerry' and 'Bugs Bunny' cartoons but probably not many members of this massive audience will have shut their eyes while watching. If you do, you start to notice an aspect of these cartoons which contributes enormously to their impact but which has been largely ignored: the sound-track. The cartoon sound-track has long fascinated me. The juxtaposition of extreme contrasts, the frantic 'chase' music, the lightning changes of mood, the blend of sound effects and musical ideas: all these combine to form a garish style which must represent the highest possible tension between the demands of picture and of music.
'Paws 3D' started out as the score for an imaginary cartoon, and grew into an apotheosis of that eternal triangle, Tom, Jerry and the Canary. The score is full of frenetic chase sequences which spill over into dream sequences for each of the main characters: Tom dreams of swimming in the gold-fish pond, the mouse dreams of a heaven made of cheese, and the Canary dreams of the freedom of the garden. The work ends with a 'Cartoon' version of Scarlatti's 'Cat's Fugue'.
But although the starting point for all these sections is an imaginary visual sequence, the music develops the style further into 'self-sufficient', i.e. which makes musical sense in its own terms but which, hopefully, never loses the sense of fun, for player and for listener, of its much-loved Hollywood antecedents.
Copyright 1984 Tim Souster
Instrumentation: computer or tape/pianist Duration: 16:00
This work sets out to test the relative abilities of the human and the machine. We know from simple computer games that the machine is more than our match in speed and calculating power. We know from listening to many optimistic computer music systems and their inventors that the realistic imitation of a single instrumental sound, like a sustained note on a grand piano can still defeat the most sophisticated technology. The piece then is itself a 'game', or contest, and hopefully an entertaining one. It is also an analogy for the feedback process between live musician and technology which can make working with digital systems creatively so rewarding. The title is ambivalent, implying both a 'musical composition' and 'effort' or 'exertion'. The pianist is made to 'work', both physically and mentally, in order to match the speed and precision of the computer. However, the computer, too, is put through its paces in passages where it is called upon to emulate the human expressivity and spontaneity of the piano soloist. The composer would like to thank Graham Naylor for his invaluable assistance in programming the computer part of 'WORK'.
Copyright 1985 Tim Souster
Hambledon Hill (1985)
Instrumentation: amplified string quartet/4-channel tape Duration: 15:00
Writing a string quartet has been a daunting prospect. For several years I tried to find a way of coming to terms with that magnificent tradition which I had come to know not just as a listener but, to a certain extent, as a performer too. (I played the viola in string quartets quite extensively as a student.)
But rather than making a futile, 'head-on' attempt to 'enrich the tradition' I opted for getting back to basics. I tried to find an approach to string quartet writing which grew out of some kind of fundamental archetype in the medium. In contemplating the relationship between the acoustic sound of the instruments, their amplified sound and the modification and extension of their sound on tape, I stumbled on my 'basic shape', or archetype: three concentric circles.
I immediately realised, to my great delight, that this was the basic layout of ancient structures which still haunt the countryside of Britain, the Iron Age hill forts. Of those I have visited, Hambledon Hill in Dorset is by far the most imposing and even though its sinuous contours are by no means exactly circular, the strong parallel lines of its massive ramparts give the structure an almost elemental power. Its atmosphere, at the same time both barbaric and melancholy, is quite unique. Perhaps it has something to do with the way in which an essentially military structure has been worn down by the centuries until it is now like a part of nature.
In this quartet, the concentricity governs not only the layout of the players, who here form a closed circle, surrounded by two further rings of loudspeakers. This concept also determines the harmonic and melodic structure (inter-related meters), the instrumental groupings within the quartet (monophony, duophony, and triophony) and, in a sense, too, the overall registers of the whole work (a circular progression from high to low and back to high again).
The work was commissioned by the Arditti String Quartet with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The tape part was realised in the composer's own studio. Hambledon Hill is dedicated to Dame Elisabeth Frink and Mr Alex Csaky.
Copyright 1985 Tim Souster
Rabbit Heaven (1986)
Instrumentation: brass quintet/percussion Duration: 16:00
Rabbit Heaven is a homage to Bugs Bunny (just as an earlier orchestral piece, Paws 3D, is a homage to Tom and Jerry). The three movements are structured in the form of three imaginary film scores, each preceded by a signature tune, and given absurdly punning titles: 'Hare Today', 'Cold Cross Bunny' and 'Hare to Eternity'. The valedictory tone of these titles is not fortuitous: Rabbit Heaven was inspired by the death of a pet rabbit and the central movement contains a funeral dirge.
The conventional brass quintet is joined by a percussionist who doubles as the supplier of sound effects. These sounds are stored as samples which can be triggered by a set of pads which are struck by the player with normal sticks at the moments prescribed in the score.
Copyright Tim Souster 1986
Trumpet Concerto (1988)
Instrumentation: trumpet (+flugel +piccolo)/live electronics/orchestra Duration: 35:00
This concerto grew out of the idea of realigning, by means of live-electronics, the traditional concerto relationship of the individual to the mass. Just amplifying the soloist puts him potentially on a par with the orchestra, as regards volume of sound. The introduction of pitch-transposers and time-delays takes this re-alignment considerably further. The live-electronic component enables the soloist to increase his influence both vertically and horizontally, so to speak. He can add harmonies parallel to his lines, and expansions in time by means of multiple echoes.
My exploration of the possibilities afforded by this new arrangement has given rise to three movements, each evoking an archetypal form or phenomenon: Dolmen; Beach; Dawn.
The Dolmen movement is not descriptive in any exact way, but seeks to evoke the mood of extreme antiquity which surrounds these mysterious objects. Nobody seems to know what they were for. which is a large part of their fascination, but many assert that they must have been tombs. Dolmen has a wide-ranging episodic from, but the climactic passages are certainly funereal in character. Beach is a reflective nocturne, prompted by the following lines from Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach:
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremendous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
It culminates in a cadenza where the soloist steps forward, drawing together motifs from all three movements. Here, the electronic echoes of the flugelhorn (on which both the latter movements are played) have an important role, as do the accompanying electronic keyboards which are added to the normal instrumentation of the orchestra.
The finale, Dawn, is much more forward-looking. Even so, its quasi-tonal harmonies are derived from the same motif which generated the whole first movement. But the concerto ends much more euphoniously than it began, and in this respect it resembles The Transistor Radio of St Narcissus which I wrote for John Wallace a few years ago. The concerto is dedicated to John Wallace and was commissioned by Gwyn L. Williams of BBC Bangor.
Copyright 1988 Tim Souster
Mekong Music (1988)
Instrumentation: fl/guitar Duration: 10:00
Instrumentation: brass band/live electronics Duration: 11:00
Echoes is, as far as I am aware, the first piece of music in which brass band has been combined with electronic equipment. I found the spatial layout of the band very suggestive of musical ideas: cornets to the left, basses and horns in the centre, euphoniums and trombones to the right. This scheme is reinforced and extended in my piece by both the scoring and the electronics. The instrumental chords bounce backwards and forwards between the players, but when they are echoed electronically, the spatial distinction between them becomes even more marked. The loudspeakers, positioned on all four corners of the room, convey the opposing sounds throughout the whole listening space.
The title Echoes does not just refer to the effects created by the electronic devices used in the piece. It also relates to a dim and distant musical model which, very occasionally, emerges from the mists of time. The reference is of course to 'The Red Flag' or 'O Tannenbaum', perhaps the best-known melody of the British Labour Movement. The intention was not to write any tub-thumping political piece of music, not to propose any pat answers to the problems of today, but rather, simply to remind ourselves of something we should never forget.
Copyright Tim Souster 1990
Instrumentation: narrator/fl/cello/keyboards/tabla/sitar/tape Duration: 20:00
Monsoon was inspired by the subject matter of a film by David Wallace and Alexander Frater, based on the progress of the monsoon from the southernmost tip of India to Cherrapunji the wettest place in the world. It combines the musical language of both East and West in the form of electronic and instrumental means. The narration is divided into five sections, which are:
Joy of Rain
The text is based on the thoughts of Khushwant Singh, adapted and extended by myself and Vayu Naidu (the first narrator). They invoke the mood of yhe monsoon and culminate in amcient love poetry associated with the sensuous season of monsoon. The piece makes constant reference to the North Indian monsoon raga 'Desh' which has become distilled out of Indian fol music. This work is dedicated to David Wallace.
Copyright 1992 Tim Souster
La Marche (1993)
Instrumentation: brass quintet Duration: 15:00
I have long been fascinated by the march as a musical, social and political phenomenon. This is not because my name appears next to that of Sousa in some reference books, but rather because of the ambivalence of the march itself. On the one hand we have the heady populism of the great revolutionary marches, the wonderful anarchy of the Sienese palios, of Charles Ives and the marching bands of New Orleans. Then there are the great tragic, but still humanistic, marches of Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler and Shostakovitch; and at the other end of the spectrum, the tight-lipped rituals of the American and British armies, and finally the nihilistic, Fascist tramping evoked so chillingly in Leni Riefenstahl's film 'The Triumph of the Will'.
My own march piece could be regarded as a 'political entertainment'. Real historical figures are represented, but the music is meant to be enjoyed as an ironically light-hearted phantasy. The musical material stems from two sources: a 'march matrix' consisting of a clashing together of five well-known march themes which are gradually distorted and developed by a process of 'filtering'. The intervallic proportions for this process of pitch-transposition and tempo-modification are provided by the second 'source' - a chord taken from one of my very favourite pieces, Ravel's La Valse. Hence my title. I could not of course presume to emulate this glorious apotheosis of the waltz, but am simply hoping to provide it with a mildly militaristic companion piece. In this work, the unfortunate performers are called upon to impersonate Margaret Thatcher, Stalin, Che Guevara, Hitler and Mao Tse Tung. This is aided by the use of simple typical props, e.g., hand-bag, beret, tunic, moustache etc. Each player is also called upon to operate an ancilliary percussion instrument by means of a foot pedal.
Copyright Tim Souster 1993
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