A Fragrant Sacrifice
A fusion of East Asian folk melodies and contemporary extended techniques in the style of the American pioneers of avant-garde music; Cage, Crumb, and Cowell performed by virtuoso Jackson Jap transforms the full range of the piano into endless capabilities. Lam’s ‘Cantonese Opera Paraphrase’ and Cowell’s ‘The Snows of Fujiyama’ reveal the wondrous textural, timbral and colouristic possibilities offered by this intriguingly beautiful instrument through extravagant pentatonicism.
Improvisation on the prepared piano accompanies the authentic tea ceremony ritual, unifying culture and identity through a picturesque sonic experience in light of the traditional zithers, Guzheng (古筝) and Koto (筝).
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In Advance of a Broken Theme
My original work, In Advance of a Broken Theme, investigates the very essence of contemporary art music in the 21st century; as the ever-expanding world of composition embraces new methods of collaboration and design, my work encapsulates a spirit of beauty existing within the violent microcosm of traditional Olympic Boxing, whilst incorporating compositional identity through the conceptual formulation of the work and its performance. The work consists of a series of variations upon a contemporary string quintet, which was built upon the transcription of rhythmic material from a sparring round. The ‘themes’ are presented, improvised upon, digitally edited and reconstructed to synthesise a fractured series of variations.
The idea to explore such collaboration remarks on the parallels of a social, performative sport compared to musical environment around stage performance. As such, the opening of In Advance of a Broken Theme remarks on a parallel preparation sequence as a boxer is depicted arranging her hand wraps whilst the violin is tuning and warming up out of frame. The following improvised ‘duet’ sets the tone for the rest of the sonic material in this work; sporadic and undetermined, yet directly interrelated within the realm of this interdisciplinary collaboration. The shadow boxer and the violin interact through communication of energy and anticipation rather than exact musical dialogue which creates an interpolation of pulse and counteraction. This sequence also integrates elements of a retrospective reflection of time, through the ‘prophetic’ treatment of material presented later in the work, as well as repeated material to synthesise a musical canon, which alludes to the subsequent string quartet. The conclusion of the duet signals the introduction of the Prelude and Dance movements for String Quintet (string quartet and percussion).
Boxing also expresses the dynamics of controlled footwork akin to dance movement. So, composing the String Quintet theme in the format of a Baroque-style dance Suite became fundamental to the conceptual expression of this analogy. The contrast of this controlled dance-like action against abrupt strikes of violence is represented in the musical and visual material via two contrasting themes: the slower gentle ‘Prelude’ accompanying slow motion footage of footwork against the more vigorous ‘Dance’ paired with overlaid footage of a real sparring round and the arrangement of a drum kit within the boxing ring. The energy that permeates throughout the development of each variation in the ‘Dance’ movement is maintained through contrasting string timbres, varied dynamics, extreme registers and occasionally, sudden silence.
The final sequence of the work uses a synthetic reconstruction of the string quintet with abstract tempo, registers, and melodic development which become gradually more fragmented and fractured through digital editing techniques. Through sampling only material from the original quartet recording, the effects produced by this digital variation can surpass the contemporary possibilities of live performance, whilst maintaining the correlation to its source material. The variation increases tension by moving the sampled material below registers possible on any live instrumentation, whilst varying tempos beyond expectation. The concept is to deliver familiar material disguised by unfamiliar contexts, which has been incorporated into the visual format of the work through similar variations in speed and sequence.
In Advance of a Broken Theme acts to transcend the traditional concept of time in the story-telling form, through a fragmented collision of tangible reality and retrospective imagery. This compositional effect delivers a correlation between a live moment and its musical reflection which ultimately expresses a collage of harmony and dissonance through the juxtaposition of a ‘violent’ sport alongside the refined ‘beauty’ of contemporary art music.
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An exploration of the idea of indeterminacy in American piano music by John Cage and Morton Feldman, and the 1950s and 1960s. This project is inspired by a piece composed by Mozart called Table of Measures, the translation to English is A Musical Dice Game. Aleatoric is an important element of chance like Mozart’s dice game.
However, around the 1900s to 1950s, all the details were written on the score, for example, the dynamics, tempo, fingering, etc. All the pieces were determined by the composer, and the performer had very limited room to do creation, especially for classical musicians.
John Cage (1912-1992) and Morton Feldman (1926-1987) were American experimental composers in the 19th century. Most of their compositions avoid a fixed and determinate sequence of sounds in performance. This can lead to a redefinition of the relationships between composer, performer and audience, thus changing the role of the musicians and asking for a different attitude on the part of listeners. The composer provides a guild line for the performer that allows the performer to express their personality and do their creation in music. However, even the compositions gave performers the freedom to create the sound, but the general idea could still come up with the visual of the score.
Through my whole performance, I used dark to light to create an atmosphere that represents the indeterminate in music. The pieces might sound differently than the expectation of the audiences as people always have a different understanding of music. However, my performances were still following the guild line created by the composer. For example, the Piano Piece 1956, a composition by Morton Feldman, was slow and soft, which is the rule that I have to follow.
The four pieces performed each have a different theme of indeterminacy:
John Cage – Music for Piano No.20: Performer needs to choose the tempo and dynamics.
Morton Feldman – Piano Piece 1956 A: This piece is an experiment in sound and harmonics
John Cage – Sonatas and Interludes No.1: Performer has to choose the materials that they want to put on the strings.
John Cage – Sonatas and Interludes No.2: Performer has to choose the materials that they want to put on the strings.
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Featuring the work, Tre Pezzi by Giacinto Scelsi, readings of his poetry and accompanying Improvisations, Spectral is a homage to our relationship with light, form, dreams, time and our relationship with the absence of anything at all.
Spectral is a solo soprano saxophone (Emma Korell accompanied by a live generated soundscape of colours and shapes, composed entirely of reflections and distortions of the pure waveform of sound. Spectral expresses the spinning descent into the corners of your mind, bringing Scelsi’s otherworldly music into another dimension. Scelsi’s music, born of his meditative and spiritual practices, is known for its explorations on a single note, enriched by the entrancing imagery and colours which evolve and transform throughout.
Five of Scelsi’s poems, as read by Blaize Cavalera-Sivis and translated by Emma Guitera, provide insight into the creative world expressed in his music and together reflect the essence of the psyche.