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Duality

Duality

  • By Christopher Swist
  • Release 15/10/2013
  • Media Format CD
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Price: $19.34

Product Notes

"Duality," writes Christopher Swist, "is an important element to the indigenous cultures of South America. The world is in balance between dual opposite elements: night and day, fire and water, sun and moon, land and sea." Indeed, the blending and balancing of opposites occupies a central component in Swist's approach to composition, as illustrated by the music on this recording. In Duality for violin and tape (track 4), written for violinist Marcia Lehninger, there are three primary contrasts or dualities, according to the composer's "Foreword" to the published edition: the blending of a centuries-old acoustic instrument and a contemporary computer sequencer; the balancing of two contrasting sections of equal length; and the use of two unique, yet combinatorial six-note sets for the work's pitch material. Despite clear differences between the two sections - a slow, rhapsodic opening section for the violin alone and a quicker, steadily percussive closing section for violin and tape - the work remains unified through the development of thematic material, such as the opening violin motive (with it's broad strokes and distinctive wide leap upward), an arpeggiated theme, and sweeping sixteenth- and triplet sixteenth-note passagework. The exploration of duality (or dualities) is not just a matter of inspiration and creation for the composer, but it becomes an element for the performers to address as well. The colorful Elator C for electronics and crotales (track 2) is a recent work that points not only to the electronic/acoustic and live/recorded dualities, but also to the analog/digital technological divide. In his program notes, Swist comments on the inherent irony of high definition digital recording, a process that involves "taking the perfect digitized sound wave and creating a warmer, more satisfying sound by sending it through the century-old technology." Structurally, Elator C is "focused on a Dsus 7 harmony with multiple colors and samples including a small elephant bell and a pipe organ. The live crotales compliment the overtone structure and upper harmonics." In Duo Mobile for mixed duo and live electronics (track 12), the score of the duo is written in mobile (or open) form, as musical ideas (cells, motives, phrases) are presented in free time, with the performers determining in real-time the number of times the fragments are repeated and improvised upon. There is coordination between the duo and the soundtrack, as the latter is sequenced in Digital Performer with an optional delay that fades in and out through mix automation. These elements of construction ensure that the piece will never be performed the same way twice. In Duo Mobile, there is also an element of 'mobility' or 'openness' with respect to the work's instrumentation, which is scored for drum set and an option of tenor saxophone, vibraphone, electric guitar, or violin. The dualities expressed by Swist's music form a link with Charles Ives, a fellow New Englander who balanced tradition and innovation roughly one hundred years ago. Swist is keenly aware of the traditions built by composers of the past, and their significance in shaping music today (including his own), yet he's driven to explore new sounds, new connections, and new approaches to composition and performance, all of which are informed by his career as composer, percussionist, educator, theorist, and specialist in music technology. Like Ives's music, too, Swist's pieces are consciously grounded in 'traditional' music forms (e.g., ternary form, fantasia, theme and variations, and 'cumulative form') that provide a platform on which creativity and innovation may be presented in a clear and convincing fashion. Swist's Variations on the Housatonic for marimba and tape (track 14) demonstrates the connection to Ives most directly, because it's main theme contains a partial quotation from the piano accompaniment to Ives's song "The Housatonic at Stockbridge." The work is composed of seven variations; there is no preceding theme, the work begins with the first variation. Variations 1, 5, and 6 are strictly acoustic for marimba alone, while in variations 2, 3, and 4 the marimba is accompanied by processed sounds from the Connecticut countryside. The final variation (variation 7) is exclusively electronic, providing Ives's original theme accompanied by unprocessed sounds from the preceding variations. The ending is strikingly Ivesian on several levels: first, the use of cumulative form, which Ives developed from his knowledge of Bach cantatas (i.e., the theme of the work is heard at the very end, following an extensive compositional 'working out' of the theme); second, the extension of cumulative form into the electronic realm, whereby the processed sounds of earlier variations come before their unprocessed sources; third, the balancing of tradition and innovation, achieved in part by Swist's extension of cumulative form, as well as by the ironic transference of the Ives quotation from an acoustic setting (variations 1-6) to an exclusively electronic setting for the presentation of the theme itself (variation 7). The duality of tradition and innovation is very much evident in each of the solo mallet works on the recording, too. In Prelude for Marimba (track 1), a strongly rhythmic A section frames a B section that quickly shifts between several themes, from slow and deep tremolos to passagework marked 'as fast as possible'. The compressed return of the A section proves to be a synthesis of the preceding content; the thematic material is derived melodically and rhythmically from A, but the rapidly changing character of the music is an approach more reminiscent of B. Written for a five-octave marimba, Prelude allows the performer to explore the low end of the instrument. Magic Mirror (track 3), also for five-octave marimba, is a colorfully modal fantasia that features harmonic surprises, and rhythmic twists that continually provide fresh sounds to the listener, even when themes return. The opening section alternates between several themes before dissolving fantasia-like into an expanding web of contrasting material. The return of the opening material just prior to the coda, however, leaves the listener with a sense of a departure-return approach to the overall structure of the work. Impressions of Giza (tracks 5-11) is an earlier work for solo marimba, written for Craig Bitterman, that bridges the composer's interests in anthropology, Egyptology, and mathematics. "An example of a marimba solo written away from the instrument using tone rows, interval relationships, and thematic transformations," Swist notes, "the mathematical nature of the pyramids lent themselves well to set theory and registration structures." The opening movement (Sands I) is marked by repeated-note figures, capturing the relentless desert landscape. The next four movements recount the pharaohs who ordered the construction of the great pyramids of Giza (Menkaure, Kahfre, Khufu) as well as the mysterious Sphinx, whose origin and likeness are directly connected to at least one of the pharaohs. In these movements, listeners are guided (literally) around and above the pyramids and Sphinx as well as through the chambers that lie within. As the final two movements suggest (Sands II and Nile) the waves of Egypt's mighty, historic river seem as endless and hauntingly beautiful as the desert sands of the Giza plateau. Intermezzo for Vibraphone (track 13), also an earlier work, takes the gently impromptu character of an intermezzo and develops it by marking the middle section "free Cadenza". In Variation on an Epilogue (track 15), Swist composes a variation set based on the short Epilogue on Bill Evans's record Everyone Digs Bill Evans (1959). The 40-second original tune is heard as a marimba chorale, framed by four-mallet variations on the tune's harmony and melody. The piece is a fitting close to the CD, not just because the word epilogue appears in the title, but more importantly, because it serves as an apotheosis of sorts - namely, an homage to Ives and Evans, two of Swist's greatest musical influences. Ives frequently used quotation, paraphrase, and variation to express the highbrow/lowbrow, art/vernacular, and tradition/innovation dualities of American music at the beginning of the twentieth century, while Evans developed a 'comprehensive technique' that allowed him to create a fully expressive palette and translate ideas into musical sound. -- Joseph Darby.

Details

Title: Duality
Release Date: 15/10/2013
Label: CD Baby
Media Format: CD
UPC: 888174334882
Item #: 883462X