The Music

Notes on the music at “Synesthesia”

Posted by SoundBox

February 8, 2018

DEBUSSY (ARR. SCHOENBERG)  Prélude à L'Après-midi d'un faune
OLIVEROS   Thirteen Changes
JACOB SELLO  Licht und Hiebe, for Hexenkessel
ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR  Aequilibria, for Chamber Orchestra
BEETHOVEN  Selections from String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, for String Orchestra
BARTÓK  Selections from Rumanian Folk Dances
JACOB SELLO  code_of_conduct, for Large Ensemble and Augmented Conductor
OLIVEROS  The Well and the Gentle





DEBUSSY (ARR. SCHOENBERG):  Prélude à L'Après-midi d'un faune  1894  |  10 mins
Based on an elegantly produced little book by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé called L’Après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”), Claude Debussy’s (1862-1918) Prelude is one of the most atmospheric and colorful pieces in the orchestral literature. This piece catapulted Mallarme’s poem into worldwide recognition, though listeners should note that Debussy went out of his way to do more than directly translate the “feeling” of the poem. Debussy was attracted by Mallarme’s skills in the art of creating symbolic pictures and of making multiple resonances vibrate under a single word. Debussy reaches for the most distant harmonies of the written language and transports the suggestions of the text into musical expression. His music offers symbols of symbols, yet is expressed so lushly and persuasively that it creates the eloquence of a new world altogether. LISTEN FOR the shimmering effects of the divided strings and the exotic timbre of the antique cymbals.



OLIVEROS:  Thirteen Changes  1986 |  3 mins
A leading figure in contemporary American music, Bay Area iconoclast Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) built a multi-decade classical career that saw her dissolving boundaries and assumptions. Her profound contributions were ear-opening both in their musical and humanistic sensibilities. Beginning in the 1950s and with exceptional influence since the 1960s, Oliveros’s work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth, and ritual profoundly changed the American music environment. She founded the Deep Listening Institute, which promoted the practice of intently and intensely “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear, no matter what you are doing”—from the sounds of daily life, to nature, to personal thoughts, to musical sounds. In the score for Thirteen Changes: For Malcolm Goldstein (1986), Oliveros writes 13 brief phrases to inspire the musicians to improvise, like “rollicking monkeys landing on Mars” and “a single egg motionless in the desert.” The resulting canvas evolves in real time through the breathing and actions of musicians interpreting through their instrument.



ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR:  Sequences  2016  |  7 mins
Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b.1977) attempts to capture the slow unfolding of detail within wholeness. Her music is written for diverse ensembles, from symphony orchestras to studio electronics, but its always colored by the sense that listening is above all else, and suggests that listening, in its is quiet way, is more powerful than insisting or imposing. The beauty and distinction of Thorvaldsdottir is her allowance for sound to form itself. Thorvaldsdottir composed Sequences for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) for the ICEcommons Project and the New York Public Library.



JACOB SELLO:  Licht und Hiebe, for Hexenkessel  2010 |  7 mins
Jacob Sello (b.1976) is composer, inventor, musicologist, sound engineer, and teacher. As artist he creates environments for instrumentalists to playful interact with digital systems in multimedia stage-performances. He was educated as an audio engineer and holds graduates in Multimedia Composition and Systematic Musicology. Sello is the developer of the Hexenkessel, a modified timpani where the drumhead is transformed into a tangible user interface without affecting the timpani´s original functionality. Listeners will experience this instrument at these performances.

“The Hexenkessel (witch’s cauldron) is an augmented musical instrument, combining a classical orchestral timpani with multi-touch tracking technology and embedded video projection. Unlike traditional acoustic instruments, where sound production is inseparably linked to the physical construction, the Hexenkessel acts as a gestural interface for computer music, controlling live-electronics, sound synthesis and even stage-lighting, without affecting the original sound and functionality of the timpani. The initial prototype was realized in a 21” timpani from the 1960s. After six months of tedious experiments with different systems for projection and mallet-tracking, I succeeded in putting together a stage-proof setup that was publicly premiered with the composition Licht & Hiebe in 2010. In 2011 the instrument was shipped to the US as submission to the Margaret Guthman New Instruments Competition in Atlanta. In this international competition for innovative musical instruments the Hexenkessel was awarded the algorithm award.”—Jacob Sello






ANNA THORVALDSDOTTIR:  Aequilibria, for Chamber Orchestra  2014  |  14 mins
In Aequilibria Thorvaldsdottir writes out a series of fundamental pitches set in multiple octaves, over and on top of which intricate and elaborate flourishes are heard. These extended sonic embellishments bring into play rival harmonies to the original pitches. LISTEN FOR threats of—and then realized—shifts in sound that result in the surging and ebbing of melodies. Listeners will experience Thorvasdottir’s master building of textural fabrics, until at last, ever so gradually and almost imperceptibly, the original soundscape returns.



BEETHOVEN:  Selections from String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, for String Orchestra  1826  |  10 mins
As a group, Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) late quartets are without peer, and his C-sharp minor quartet is no exception. At once embracing of the highly personal and the broadly universal, this piece plumbs the depths of emotional expression while reveling in the most arcane technical devices. Legend has it that Beethoven suggested to a friend that he loved this piece most of all. Each of the piece’s short movements pack a punch. Although we hear only two movements at these performances, listeners will feel as if the entire weight of a full-scale movement has been packed into these dense supernovas, which might explode at any time.






BARTÓK:  Selections from Rumanian Folk Dances  1917  |  2 mins
As a fledgling composer, Béla Viktor János Bartók (1881-1945) emulated Richard Strauss. In this way, R. Strauss had creatively liberated Bartók, but it was not long before Bartók needed liberating from Strauss. He found an exit first of all in folk songs, which he began to collect and transcribe in 1904, an activity that became a major and permanent commitment. He combed the countryside collecting music in remote villages. It was this music, and later the added influence of Debussy, whose music opened these performances, that gave Bartók his first glimpse into a new world of texture and color. As an ethnomusicologist, Bartók specialized in the musics of Hungary and Rumania, with occasional excursions into Turkey and North Africa. He collected these particular Rumanian tunes in the first decade of the century, setting them for solo piano in 1915 and for chamber orchestra two years later. Bartók’s mastery of muscality is closely allied to his preoccupation with folk music. “The right type of peasant music,” he wrote, “is most varied and perfect in its forms. Its expressive power is amazing, and at the same time devoid of all sentimentality and superfluous ornaments. It is simple, sometimes primitive, but never silly. It is the ideal starting point for a musical renaissance.”



JACOB SELLO:  code_of_conduct, for Large Ensemble and Augmented Conductor  2018  |  5 mins
In code_of_conduct the conductor´s gestures and movements are translated into musical notation, displayed on 13 tablet computers to be interpreted by the ensemble in real time. The utilization of cutting-edge technology and custom software reverse the traditional relationship of music and motion: instead of dancing to music this piece is entirely generated from the of the conductor´s gestures.—Jacob Sello



OLIVEROS: The Well and the Gentle  1985  |  8 mins
The Well and the Gentle gives a different set of pitches for each of the work’s two sections. The composer also includes instructions and strategies for the performers on how exactly to realize the music. The first section (The Well) features a star diagram with words at each point of the star, which represent different sound-making strategies. Within the pentagon is a section labeled “The Well,” with a note that states that “the Well is the source and resting place of silence.” The second section (The Gentle) provides a rhythmic mode.

Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.