COMPOSER’S VIEW:DAVID LITKE

[The following text contains a brilliant analysis by composer David Litke, that served as a sonically assisted introduction to the performance of Elucide by the New Music Ensemble, October 15, 2006, in Toronto. It is intact, except for removal of references to examples that were played for the audience that cannot be reproduced here. In a sense, these examples were essential to the understanding of what Mr. Litke is sharing. In another, equally compelling sense, his verbal representation of ideas is quite rewarding and richly repays a careful reading. Enjoy this, and have your pleasure in listening to contemporary music enhanced. Editor]

ELUCIDE by David Litke

Elucide is a musical exploration of the act of perception, and the mechanisms by which we come to understand and find meaning in sensory information. The piece takes as a point of departure an examination of the raw materials of music, the acoustic phenomena created by the instruments of the ensemble.

Due to the transitory, elusive nature of sound, many aspects of sonic events generally go unnoticed. Elucide attempts to take hold of sounds that seem to pass too quickly, and to break apart the overtone structures of sounds that appear fused, in order to have a closer listen to the phenomena and to reveal elements that we would otherwise have difficulty perceiving.

Throughout the piece, individual instruments use techniques that reveal components of their sounds that would ordinarily be hidden. String harmonics, for example, allow the higher partials of a low pitch to emerge.

String instruments can play near the bridge, revealing the upper regions of their harmonic spectra.

The woodwind instruments use multiphonic techniques that allow us to hear multiple simultaneous pitches from a single instrument.

By playing inside the piano, a low piano note can reveal a rich set of higher component pitches.

While these techniques break a single sound into its multiple components, another compositional technique is used to combine numerous sound sources into a single timbre. Computer analysis allows us to examine in detail the internal characteristics of a short sound sample, such as the piano harmonic we just heard. This information can then be transposed to musical notation and played by an ensemble, creating a kind of instrumental synthesizer. In employing this technique, the partials of a source sound are played on an augmented time scale in order to reveal minute developments of the sound that generally pass too quickly to grasp.

Tonight we play an analysis of the same piano harmonic re-constructed by the ensemble. First, we hear the source sound, and then the instrumental version of the sound. These two compositional methods allow us to hear “inside” the sound, in a sense, and to become aware of aspects of the phenomena that were always present, yet were formerly hidden.

While Elucide begins with a focus on the perception of acoustic phenomena, it progresses to explore the ways in which these perceptions find musical significance. Over the course of the piece, the constituent elements of the source sounds are progressively manipulated, organized and re-interpreted. What begins as a unified timbre is thereby progressively transformed into melodic gestures, motives, and musical phrases. As the characteristics of the source sound are applied in various ways, the music gradually moves from the domain of pure “sound as sound” to that of musical semantics, the sound patterns and organization to which we ascribe musical meaning.

The image that I used to guide the composition of this piece is one of pulling apart and unraveling a sonic object, to find the living, breathing music that dwells within it. In synthesizing a unified spectrum with the ensemble, Elucide aims to engender a certain lucidity, in the sense of transparency, whereby the identifying characteristics of the individual instruments melt away to reveal a single harmonic entity. Over the course of the work, however, this transparency transforms into another type of lucidity, this time meaning intelligibility, whereby the musical meaning found within the sound is elucidated.

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