Silent, listening to the air becoming no air becoming air again

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This work is dedicated to Gamelan Sekar Petak, the University of York’s beautiful Javanese gamelan, those who play on it, Neil Sorrell, its director, and Emily Crossland, friend, composer and the gamelan’s ‘ensemble manager’ from 2007-2009. I had the immense pleasure of performing in the gamelan from late 2007 ‘til late 2007 whilst I was engaged in postgraduate study at the music department. I relished the experience: as is so often said and written, gamelan is more than an instrumentation, more than a music, more than a performance practice – its an atomsphere, a theatre, a way… The lessons I learned about music, about aesthetics, were leaned slowly and gently, and they continue to infrom my practice.

In abstract sonic terms, the work is about four distinct harmonic worlds, each of which intersects with at least one other. Each cello inhabits a different harmonic series, and the gamelan offers two modes: slendro and pelog. But the harmonic series of cello 1 shares a pitch with both slendro and pelog, cello 2 shares a pitch with pelog, and slendro and pelog share two pitches. My wish was to work with these attributes in a manner conceptually inspired by my own (mis)-understanding of Olivier Messiean’s procedures for creating vertical harmony out of distinct linearities. The process of composition was intuitive, and involved much workshopping with the musicians. All materials, and meta­-materials, such as the traditional Javanese form that emerages in the centre of the piece, were deployed according to what the music seemed to need on a moment to moment basis (to borrow an idea from Morton Feldman). My choice of title – a line from Frank O’Hara’s poem Three Airs – was also intuitive. My eyes happened upon the words as I was thumbing through a copy of O’Hara’s Lunch Poems as I sat out during a gamelan rehearsal. They evoke for me that deep concentration, that sense of intense atmosphere, that I am always seeking in music, as a composer, as a performer, as a listener. And I often find that concentration in Javanese gamelan.

Instrumentation: two cellos, Javanese gamelan
Duration: circa 17 minutes.
Date of composition: 2009.
Commissioned by Ergodos for Gamelan Sekar Pethak
First Performance: Gamelan Sekar Pethak (Ellen Jordan and Hannah Gibbs, cellos; Garrett Sholdice, director ). Ergodos Festival 2009, National Concert Hall, Dublin, April 2009.
Score: Please email to obtain the latest score.