a/grammatical study for three (quasi-) independent players


SKU: 200205 Category: Tags: , , ,


instrumentation: violin, oboe, percussion
date: 2002
duration: 8’30
details: 30 pages, including performance instructions; A3 landscape

Programme Note

a/grammatical study for three (quasi-)independent players (2002) is one of three extractable works from “the green is either”, a conductor-less conglomeration of three interconnected, simultaneous trios for seven players.  The larger ensemble work, as is true for the two extractable solo works (“the green is or” for oboe and “the green is where” for violin), takes its title and motivation from Husserl’s Logical Investigations, or, more precisely, from Derrida’s response in “Signature Event Context” (Limited Inc., 1972) and its discussion of semantic, grammatical content and its contextual contingencies.

To simplify briefly, Husserl argues that phrases such as “the green is either” (“le vert est ou,” with the aural ambiguity of ou/où pivotal to the argument) in fact are no longer of the realm of language, or at least, as Derrida writes, “no ‘logical’ language, no cognitive language such as Husserl construes in a teleological manner, no language accorded the possibility of the intuition of objects given in person and signified in truth,” into the realm of agrammaticality (Sinnlosigkeit).  Derrida argues, however, that though “‘the green is either’ or ‘abracadabra’ do not constitute their context by themselves, nothing prevents them from functioning in another context as signifying marks (or indices, as Husserl would say).”

The possibilities of musical grammar (and, more importantly, agrammaticality) fascinated me and captured my imagination.  The set of works under the “the green is either” banner are all experiments in the construction and de(con)struction of a communicative, musical grammar (and the various failures implicit in such attempts), of the potentialities of dependence and independence of soloists and ensembles, and of the exchange (and requisite ruptures of intention) of communicative texts and utterances.  As Derrida continues, there constantly exists “the possibility of disengagement and citational graft which belongs to the structure of every mark, spoken or written, and which constitutes every mark in writing before and outside of every horizon of semio-linguistic communication; in writing, which is to say in the possibility of its functioning being cut off from its ‘original’ desire-to-say-what-one-means [vouloir-dire] and from its participation in a saturable and constraining context.”

To this end, I have again deployed a procedure of decoupling in the two “solo” voices, offering the possibility of further distortions of emerging and codified material.  The fracture and destabilization thus moves beyond a manipulation of aurally-defined units (gestures, harmonies, structures) into an even greater level of destabilization in which such mutations of musical material do not even necessarily appear on the musical surface, instead obfuscated or subverted by the opposing decoupled strata (in the oboe, fingers (keys) versus mouth (lips, breath, embouchure), in the violin, left (fingerboard/pitch) vs. right (bow/pizzicato) hands).

The works were commissioned by the Bludenzer Tage Zeitgemäßer Musik 2002, Bludenz, Austria, for ensemble recherche (Freiburg, Germany).  a/grammatical study for three (quasi-)independent players was premiered by Ensemble SurPlus at the Schloss Solitude Sommerakademie, Stuttgart, Germany, August 2003. The piece can be played with either the original (2002) or alternative (2004) violin part.


A way of making ghosts. Ensemble Musikfabrik, ELISION, JACK Quartet, Line Upon Line. Manuel Nawri, conductor. Also includes A republic of spaces, String Quartet (2002), a/grammatical study for three (quasi-)independent players, and three solos from The wreck of former boundaries. Kairos 0015073KAI, December 2022.

Audio Sample

Portrait Concert, ELISION Ensemble. ABC Ferry Road Studios, Brisbane, Australia. July 27, 2008. Broadcast on ABC Classic FM. Peter Veale, oboe; Graeme Jennings, violin; Peter Neville, percussion; Manuel Nawri, conductor

Ensemble SurPlus; James Avery, conductor.  Schloss Solitude Sommerakademie, Stuttgart, Germany, August 2003.