Something New, Something Old

Each of the five composers featured in the upcoming Kammerklang concert, Ablaze, is writing a new work for the concert, as well as having a past work revisited.

My composition Electro Fractal Gamelan (2011) for vibraphone and electronics is on the programme, alongside the new work Phlogiston (2014). Electro Fractal Gamelan is a 3 minute piece that was written in 2011 for a Kammerklang development project, Worship the Machine, which paired music with trapeze.  Worship the Machine visited the idea of androids playing nostalgic music in some kind of wasteland, a theme which strongly influenced the sound world of this piece.

The electronic backing track is one that I had started drafting in 2008, using the software Pure Data, and is based on sine wave blips.  I refined this a little, then exported it to multi-track software where I added effects that build very slowly over the duration of the track.

The blips revolve around the harmonic series on A.  There are 8 lines.  Each line is a continuous stream of notes from a single pitch class, randomised over the different octaves.  They are assembled in a kind of simple binary fractal, where the repeat rate is halved as each pitch gets further away from the A fundamental.  These are the opening 20 seconds:

Having played Javanese gamelan for a number of years, I am deeply influenced by the form.  I sometimes reference gamelan structures in my compositions, however in this work I am referring to gamelan much more loosely and broadly.  To me, the binary rhythms and continuity of notes in the backing track resemble the sound of kotekan in Balinese gamelan, where two parts play interlocking patterns to produce a very rapid constant line.

Even though the sound of the sine-blips is continuous, one begins to hear phantom rhythms, or “resultant patterns” in the track.  I wrote the vibraphone part by selecting a few such rhythms and allowing the vibraphone player some choice in the pitches used to explore these growing rhythmic cells.  As the piece progresses, reverb and overdrive effects permeate the backing track, and eventually, to complement this, the vibraphone player moves to a tremolo passage with some freedom of pitch as well as timing.  While the backing track is fixed, each performance of this work on the vibraphone is likely to be unique.

Electro Fractal Gamelan will be performed at Kammerklang Ablaze by Kaylie Dunstan, pictured in this amazing image:

Kaylie Dunstan, percussionist
Image by Hayden Shepherd Photography

Artist Keith Chidzey is creating a new fire-themed work inspired by Electro Fractal Gamelan. He’s also blogged about the Kammerklang Ablaze project. I’m really looking forward to his interpretation, the “fire fountain” sounds especially intriguing!

The score for Electro Fractal Gamelan will be available to purchase and backing track will be available for download following the gig.  Details to follow.

Performance details:

Kammerklang Ablaze is taking place Friday 6 June 2014 at the Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Also featuring music by Sam Gillespie, Lucy Kong, Cameron Lam and Chris Williams.
Full details here, including ticket presale: