Less Than Two (1976-79)
Sonor (Delores Stevens, Jean-Charles François, pianos; Daryl Pratt, Daniel Dunbar, percussion)
János Négyesy, violin; Cecil Lytle, piano
Our perception of life is frequently shaped by the habit of pairing things — persons, circumstances, ideas. The elements of such pairs may be seen at one time as opposed extremes, at another as complementary aspects of one whole. I have never felt entirely comfortable with either dualistic opposition or views arguing for ultimate unity. Less Than Two can be thought of as hovering somewhere between the two. On the one hand, I have considered distinctions between traditional instruments and more recent machines, between the approaches of different performers to the same instrument and of differing instruments to the same musical aim, between the micro-structure of sounds them selves and the principles of formal structure that underlie my musical architecture. On the other hand, I have sought to minimize these incipient polarities, seeking richness with more than unity but less than duality. The first half of the work comprises 13 sections, the second half — not quite a duplication — includes only ten, each of which is a reworking of materials from one of the first-half sections. These restatements are not literal repeats; neither are they entirely new dispositions of the materials. The tape runs almost continuously, providing an unarticulated (at first ephemeral, secretive, irritating; later sumptuous and enveloping) continuity that percussive instruments cannot achieve. The programming of each of the long, computer-generated tones followed one of three ideals: stability (fixed pitch with variable timbre), transition (glissing from one pitch gradually to another) or deviation and return (spreading out from one initial core pitch and converging upon another). The character and formal structure of instrumental materials in each section are closely allied to that of its accompanying taped sonority. On the other hand, no effort was made to emulate the vibrancy of instrumental sounds with the synthesized materials.
A close cooperation between the two pianists and two percussionists is essential throughout. Each section is conducted by a particular performer, whose partner carries the primary musical burden; the other pair (either the percussionists or the pianists) provides a closely integrated commentary. The interactive character of Less Than Two arose naturally out of my experience with the musicians who commissioned it: Messrs. Gilbert Kalish, James Freeman, Raymond Des Roches, and Richard Fitz. The notation is explicit about the musical materials themselves, but allows for the interactive fluidity characteristic of the most rewarding chamber music.
Aether reflects the confounding diversity of attributes associated with its name. it is markedly heterogeneous at the outset, becoming whole by inference as the sections pass. Webster’s unabridged is measured, even a trifle wry: “the element formerly held to form the material of the heavenly spheres and bodies from the moon to the fixed stars.” Its elaborations continue indecisive but provocative. I selected four pairs of properties from those, enumerated and arranged them sequentially: airy, tenuous, volatile, rigid, continuous, independent, elastic and cooperative. The first and third are unique, outer limits, as it were. Each of the other pairings (e.g., rigid and elastic) involve reworking a shared set of basic materials. The violin is retuned so as to facilitate a characteristic signature, a succession of natural harmonics (passing from one string to another) which, while remaining consonant, is tonally ambiguous. This rapid, airy figuration reappears periodically throughout the work in both the violin and the piano, implying its continuing (though sometimes obscured) presence. In the latter sections of the work, the signature’s place in the thematic design of the whole emerges. I was particularly interested in devising varied ways of weaving its dispassionate fluidity into the more earthly materials of the eight sections.
The pitch organization is serial at root: an arrangement of row transpositions was found that interleaved the overtone patterns of the aether figure with other less predictable pitch successions. This coexistence of an airy factor and an asymmetrical volatility is manifested especially by the violin during the closing pages of the work.
I have used the two instruments in idiomatic but sometimes rather uncommon ways. The violinist, in particular, is called upon to master several novel cross-string bowing and left-handed fingering conventions.
While composing, I worked closely with János Négyesy and Cecil Lytle, the friends to whom this composition is dedicated. Aether was commissioned by the McKim Fund at the Library of Congress and was written during 1983, in Del Mar.
Recording engineer: Josef Kucera
Direct Metal Mastering by Bill Kipper, Masterdisk Corporation.
Design: By Design
Published by Henmar Press (C. F. Peters Corporation), New York
© 1987 Lovely Music
© P 1987 Roger Reynolds (BMI)