Last week, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble performed my piece ‘Eternity’, at the Milton Court Concert Hall. It was an absolutely fantastic and diverse programme, featuring work by Thomas Fournil, Sylvia Lim, James Hoyle, Ümit Armağan, Donghoon Shin, Iain Harvie, Hans Hoeglund, Alex Stephenson and myself. I am incredibly proud to have been part of it, and I hope to have a recording to show you soon.
My piece takes the concept of Eternity and renders it in quite an extreme way – overlapping lines, or waves of eternity eventually dissolve into discrete textural incidents, which then bleed or crossfade into each other. Each verse has a distinct swatch of texture, and the text is never declaimed in compact units, which gives the piece the feel of a constantly evolving texture. Conceptually, the intention was to create an object that constantly undergoes disturbances, but eventually returns to a kind of equilibrium – no matter how far the material may struggle to change shape or become something else, it eventually snaps back to its ‘eternal’ state in the end, and there is a lot of struggle!
Harmonically, this is probably the most dissonant piece that I have ever written, it is largely hexachordal (made up of six-note chords), and the first chord from which the piece grows comes from spectral analysis of a distorted electric guitar chord. The resultant harmony (to simplify somewhat) is quite ‘murky’ or ‘dark’, but it resolves onto very bright, consonant harmony at key points in the text, which I will not spoil by telling you in advance.
This was my first foray into writing for vocal ensemble, and it was definitely a learning experience. To write for six voices is a real test, because you can’t get away with anything! Unlike a choir, you cannot truly effect ‘infinite’ sustains using staggered breathing etc, and so breathing space must be an integral part of the composition, and this presented me with significant challenges in terms of wanting to create a feeling of constant movement and sustain, while making the music singable. There were many rewrites, and even today, there are things that I might change, but overall, I’m really happy with how the piece turned out, and it was very humbling and a real pleasure to watch EXAUDI work on it and turn it into something bigger.
Here are some photos (taken by Hans Hoeglund) from the rehearsal, I’m still totally in awe of the acoustic at Milton Court, I recently saw the Guildhall Jazz Band do a tribute to Kenny Wheeler there, and it sounded absolutely huge. More of all of those things, please.