Because of the wide variety of timbres, dynamic ranges, and varied sound-masses of the instruments in a wind quintet, it is a very colorful but unbalanced combination, where each instrument retains its unmistakable individuality in almost any musical texture. Reflecting perhaps my argumentative and hot-headed Arab-Chilean-Irish-American family background, this disparate combination of instruments suggested to me a group of distinct individuals having an intense conversation: agreeing, disagreeing, cajoling, pleading, interrupting, and sometimes raising their voices loudly over the group, each one bringing a different perspective to the conversation. In Spanish, “confabular” means to conspire, and the work’s title “Confabulario” is a made-up word that suggests, in Spanish, the meaning “place where conspiring happens.” The piece is just such a place, but the characters involved are very opinionated and different from each other, and they have a hard time coming up with any kind of mutually agreeable plan.
In the first movement, “Rapsodia” (“Rhapsody”), there is little agreement, and each instrument is a character arguing its point passionately. There are many disparate rhythms and a general lack of a steady rhythmic groove. The instruments coincide rhythmically only as they form partnerships against other instruments. The flute is generally impulsive and excitable. The oboe likes to ask questions and often pleads with the group. The clarinet is often dark and mysterious, but it also has a volatile sarcastic streak. The horn makes thoughtful interjections, but can also be a bit of a bully. The bassoon tries to be the peacemaker, often moving into the high range to make its point. They all seem to be obsessed with a slow turning figure that is often played in imitation by the instruments.
The faster second movement, “Concertación” (“Pact”) begins with the instruments finally cooperating through music based on a fast variant of the turning figure with a clear rhythmic pulse and playful trading-off of musical ideas. This movement includes passages that slide into music from the first movement, as the instruments fall back into the previous discussion and repeat the same points and counter-points they had previously made, including even a varied return to the opening of the first movement, that started the whole discussion. There is also a return to the opening music of the second movement, but with several interpolations. Eventually any semblance of cooperation ends, and a loud, intense climactic argument in which nobody “wins” is followed by a final section in which the flute, oboe, and clarinet collapse into repetitive babble, while the horn and bassoon stubbornly insist on repeating a pair of loud notes. Exhaustion finally brings all these headstrong characters together.
Saturniana is a work for bass trombone that includes fixed and live electronics. For the live electronics the composer designed a recursive program (“patch”) in Max that captures the characteristic glissando (slide) of the trombone and extends it infinitely. This program also measures the musical intervals that the trombone plays and uses them to shape fairly aggressive electronic sounds and textures, which inspired the basic material from which the bass trombone part was created. The title was suggested by the sombre and, at the same time, savage character of much of the music: something like an inhospitable planet, or like the dark humor of the Roman god of Time, Saturn.
Trance was written during a time when I was listening to a lot of classical Indian music. Its pitch material is in a tonal framework similar to a raga but more chromatic, and at first the cello explores this framework in an irregular improvisatory way as in a raga.
The piece begins with the cellist knocking twice on the sounding board. These knocks are recorded and they set the tempo for the piece, like the tabla in classical Indian music. They eventually present rhythmic patterns that accompany the metrically regular cello music that follows the improvisatory music that begins the piece. As in Indian music, the cello music includes many bent notes, both plucked and bowed. All the electronic sounds in the piece are transformations of sounds produced by the cello during the course of the performance, and eventually the electronics take up these bent notes and extend them into longer and wilder gestures that quickly lead the music away from its original source of inspiration in Indian music, and towards a more abstract electroacoustic environment.
In the last section of the piece, the roles of the cello and the electronics are reversed. The cello takes on the role of the tabla, playing pizzicato notes in a simple accelerating rhythm that causes the electronics to speed up and get higher and higher, playing a recording of everything that the cello has played before, as if the cellist were automatically reliving the experience of playing the piece, as in a trance.
Blues en el Corazón (2009)
I. Blues Claro II. Blues Ronco III. Blues Mágico
Blues en el Corazón (“Blues in the Heart”) was written for American pianist Marilyn Nonken and it is a set of three piano pieces connected by the use of a simple blues scale. The scale is used as the basis for all the material in the pieces and it is used both as a generator of surface motives, as in the second piece, and as source material for the harmonic background of all the pieces. The first piece Blues Claro (Clear Blues) uses bright sonorities and light rhythms. In contrast, Blues Ronco (Hoarse Blues), is dark and gruff. Blues Mágico (Magic Blues) is the culmination of the set and it is intended to evoke very contrasting senses of time. Time starts and stops as soft, rhythmically free, slow music from the opening alternates with loud rhythmic fast music that presents blues scales most directly.
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