Pass Under


7,8-8,9 2022




(continuo(basso & effetto))





Different languages present different sounds, thus they express different tonal regions of the human voice, and because this is my modus operandi, it makes sense to use different translations of lines to alter the shape of the melodic contour.

The opening line of this poem came out in two forms:

Pass under cool water AND Subīte frīgida aqua

I initially chose the latin for the melodic shape of aqua, but I thought the translation of frigida could be too vague when I wanted to express coolness, not cold. The english form of that line is also smoother, as most of the consonants are softer, so when I decided on the intoned syllables for the latin, the contour lost a certain airy, flowing quality found in the english.

This might seem like splitting hairs, but because my formal constrants require my melodic and harmonic content—my primary tetrachordal structure—to be derived from the qualities that occur within the opening recitation, this allows for different possibilities to expand upon. English words will have softer sounds, with more glides, while latin would have more exact pitches that are more percussive.

The core quality of my music, the basis for my compositional logic, is in the phonetic qualities of the spoken word, not really the voice. Vocal music exphasizes the abstract notion of the voice as an instrument: the music is not derived from the way the words are expressed, instead the music envelops the words; yet, I emphasize the sound of the word as if it were as idiomatic as the sound of the oboe. There are certain qualities inherent to instrumental construction that lead certain musical features and quirks to be hightened, so when you write music without taking these into account, you are incorrectly assuming certain qualities are totally equivalent, whereas instrumental construction is anything but equivalent in all factors of attack, decay, resonance, etc. It is the same with the voice and word, you need to write for these in a certain way to identify and accentuate the color of the resulting sound; that is, you must write idiomatically for the word itself, and understand that the voice is a means through which this sound is expressed: the voice is not the instrument, it is the loudspeaker.

To apply different languages means engaging with different phonetic material, and thus different instruments. This, in dialogue with chant and recitative, which represent the contrast in construction—they are written without the sound of the word taken into account, pure vocal music—sort of my own idiomatic interpretation of the push and pull of tonic and dominant structures, forms the basic of my musical language.

SO, here too I have begun to rethink and remold the use of instrumental texture in my music: it serves as a reaction to the vocal qualities, there is this necessity for a certain decay, that the musical texture is this shattered, fragmented sound, like speech, but also possesses his sort of tonal halo within that seemingly short and instant moment, be it the trailing of a vowel or even a breath.

The continuo becomes the essence of this, the written root pitches serve not as true pitch, but a reference pitch for the harmonic and textural fields. The basso is built upon non sustaining sounds, the crunch of the consonant. The effetto is contrastingly built upon harmonics and overtones, the universe within the vowel. These occur in relation to the word, they blend and contrast with it.

So this music rests somewhere between monody and polyphony: the core of the music is the central line, which is flanked by this fake polyphony, pitches that don't exist, but serve to inform musical and textural effects that find themselves occuring purely because the line informs the idea of them.

Here is the key: this literal musica ficta appears on the page only because the central line exists, because it is first composed according to the line, counterpoint built in reaction, then the effects are informed, and then it is excised, leaving only the interpretation of what it means, not its literal written form.

The central line is a logos, a sort of foundational logic through which all possible interpretations may flow. What remains may or may not occur at any given time, but always exists as a sort of potentiality.

Sean Patrick Ignatius Tartaglia