instrumentation: amplified bass clarinet
details: 10 pages, including performance instructions; A3 landscape
The impetus for metallic dust (1998-99) came following a period of considerable study on the recent string music of Klaus K. Hübler and Frank Cox (namely, Hübler’s Third String Quartet and Opus Breve and Cox’s Shift for five cellos) in which the various elements of performance technique-bowing action, string assignments, bow pressure and position, and the fingerings of the left hand-are “de-coupled,” given separate, independent rhythmic layers which interact in wonderfully unpredictable ways. Inspired by a planned visit by famed bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay, I began work on a similar technique for wind instruments.
metallic dust separates the two primary modes of wind playing: fingers (pitch) and mouth (breath, tonguing, dynamics, articulations). The work is notated on two rhythmically independent staves, organized such that the final resulting sounds of the work are not in fact denoted in the score but are rather created as “aural byproducts” of the interaction of the two “de-coupled” layers. As a result of this separation, several of the notated units in the score are only loosely audible (aided, however, by the extensive amplification which serves as an aural microscope of sorts), some as near-silent breathing through the instrument, others as fingered pitches without air flow.
This work is quite intentionally an intensely physical work. Much of the counterpoint in the piece is not predominately aural but is rather organized to produce a kind of “visual counterpoint.” The two separated layers are quite frequently at odds with one another, not only rhythmically (as is true throughout the piece) but also in character (for example, sinuous, silky figuration in the fingers set against harsh, abrupt, and jerky articulation from the mouth). While this obviously has an aural component, it also has a clear visual role; to this end, the performer is encouraged to emphasize such physicality.
metallic dust is organized into twelve smaller subsections based upon a single proportional scheme which operates on several various levels throughout the work. Though these subsections are indicated in the score, they do not necessarily indicate aural demarcations. Instead, they operate as “windows” or “frames” through which material is refracted or within which material is constricted; as such, these divisions operate as twelve (inter-)connected self-similar vignettes or fragments, as in a maddening maze of twelve seemingly identical rooms, each a different shape and size from the preceding room, though none individually identifiable as distinct units. The work is intentionally monochromatic and monolithic: metallic dust does not as much “begin and end” as it merely “starts and stops.”
metallic dust is dedicated in thanks and appreciation to Harry Sparnaay.