et nox...


10,6-8, 2022








How far can the harmonic well go? Can instrumental music be written where it actually cannot exist? That is to say, express the word? Composers have written as to emulate speech, but what of texture and shade?

The root of this is an idea I had for working on a small orchestral work for a competition, where a cantor voice could not exist, so instruments had to take its place. Designed as a complex web of plucked, harmonic, and bowed effects, it attempted to focus the sound of recitation; however, it was tied to the five line staff, which felt a bit useless since the range of the speaking voice is not really that wide, really just a fourth with all kind of microtonal inflects and harmonic tones resting within.

The indeterminacy of the well offers a new way of organizing it. Because the rhythms are derived from the word, and the pitch content is so slim, instead of being bound to a staff where there is just wasted space, the effetto and armonia work together to "speak" and color the text. It is difficult to some extent because the color palette is so limited, and I think this form cannot really exist on its own, but rather as a subsection of a larger work.

It seems that I cannot really separate myself from the voice, I still need the performers to express the word. As much as I needed purely instrumental music, I find it does not really represent what I want in the end.

It is not that it is difficult to write, it is rather that it is too easy to get away with writing instrumental music; it is far too lenient compositionally: you can start anywhere, go anywhere, use any tool, etc. It much harder to write well for the voice if you wish to emphasize shade and contour, it took many years for Partch to really find an acceptable way of doing so, because you not only have to follow how the voice sounds, but you also need to obey the meaning and effect of the text. It is less about projecting the self as a composer and more about channeling oneself through the material. Often this means you might sacrifice a melodic line or damage some sort of "formal consistency," though form is not a question I care too much about. A well written madrigal is much more effective than a well written sonata to my ears.

Sean Patrick Ignatius Tartaglia