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The music of 'New Ground'
Paul Goodey writes about the seven premières that make up the CD.


The pieces chosen for this disc represent a wide range of new repertoire ranging from pieces influenced by Minimalism and Post-Romantic styles to the avant-garde. Other criteria for the choice of repertoire were to include pieces which had not been previously recorded and, also, to include instruments other than the piano. Therefore, there are works with live delays (Roxburgh), live electronics (Goodey/Oliva), percussion (Fitkin) and voice (McDowall). I am very grateful to Cecilia McDowall for writing Fox Woman especially for this disc.

All pieces were rehearsed with the composers. Edwin Roxburgh

The core of the disk is Roxburgh's Still Point of the Turning World… Written in 1979, it employs a wide range of techniques, many of which originated in the composer's research as a virtuoso oboist. All material is generated live in performance by the six delays which range from 4.2 seconds to one minute. The recording on this disc aims to provide a sense of the movement which is heard in a concert performance where the oboist is the 'still point' in the centre of six speakers which form the 'turning world' around the audience.

The other pieces present the oboe in variety of styles. In both New Ground and Diptych, it is the harmonic language and interplay between oboe and piano which is 'new'. Into the Light uses a Post-Romantic idiom, combined with a very 'contemporary' range and other techniques such as double trills and alternative fingerings. Ostrich on the Plain uses a more delicate language (oboe and wood blocks) and contrasts rhythmic sections, which gradually increase in tempo through a process of metric modulation, with sustained notes.

Cecilia McDowall, photo by Patricia Dilks Fox Woman
In the last piece, Fox Woman, the oboe assumes a more descriptive role with the voice taking centre stage. Here, McDowall uses both the oboe and voice in a variety of ways to realise the text. The oboe part ranges from peaceful, meditative phrases through to aggressive and wild outbursts. The vocal parts includes spoken text, semi-sung passages, conventional singing and other techniques such as singing whilst breathing in.

The opening of the piece introduces the almost demonic character: 'I choose my prey with care… it must be tender'. After an oboe flourish, follows the first of several dance-like episodes which are constructed from Eastern modes, often heard in parallel fifths.

In two of the central passages, the text is accompanied by very harmonic multiphonics, the first of which is closely related to an Eb major triad whereas the second resembles a B major chord.

In the final dance passage, the vocal line gradually transforms to breathy, spoken, words to symbolise the hunter's need: 'I begin to fade. Must feed'. This heralds the aggressive kill: 'Now! He's mine…struggles like a headless bird'.

The opening returns to the mood and content of the opening with the protagonist, now satiated, already realising that soon she must hunt again: 'I test the wind. I think it's that one!'

Xas-Orion
For the past five years, alongside performance work and activities at Trinity College of Music, I have been undertaking doctoral research in which I have explored new expressive possibilities for the oboe. The main aim of this work has been to prove that, rather than having reached a saturation point of new techniques (following the developments of so-called 'extended techniques' in the 60s and 70s) that a huge number of possibilities remain. The core of the research consists of hundreds of sound analyses which are then transformed in a variety of ways.

The conclusion contains eight pieces which use the analyses in a contrasting ways. These pieces range from solo oboe and oboe with piano; to works for ensemble and works where pre-recorded, transformed, oboe files form an electronic accompaniment for large ensemble. Michael Oliva

Xas-Orion, was written during the last year of research as joint project between Michael Oliva and myself. For those listeners who wish to have a fuller understanding of this work, I include the following analysis:

Xas-Orion is conceived as a duo between the oboe/cor anglais player and the operator of the computer. The electronic part is divided into thirty-three triggered events, thus allowing freedom in performance, unlike in works using tapes or click tracks.

The oboe can produce a wide range of sounds related to B including:
Bs produced by a wide range of alternative fingerings
Microtonal adjustments of these
B harmonics
B double harmonics
Bs transforming to multiphonics
Single and double trills on this pitch
Multiphonics containing strong B frequencies.

It was therefore decided to make this pitch the harmonic core of the piece, both in the instrumental and electronic parts.

These two sound worlds (instruments/electronics) are deliberately blurred throughout as the oboe is often transformed, live. More importantly, the majority of the material output by the computer is derived from the oboe. These sound events include:
Single pitches transformed by filters
Multiphonics, full and/or filtered, which are heard live in the oboe, both at original pitches and transposed
Harmonic systems, including microtones, the content of which is dictated by the frequencies
within the oboe multiphonics heard live.

The piece consists of six main sections:

Section 1
The piece begins with the sound of the sun's electromagnetic fluctuations, recorded by satellite, transposed to 'B'. Amplified breath, enhanced by reverberation and an octave transposition, is introduced in the oboe. At 30'', three pitches are introduced in the electronics. These are the main pitches of the first oboe mulitphonic introduced later at 1'15''. At 42'', comb filtering is added to the oboe which produces the same three pitches, but now generated by breath, tongue slaps and key clicks. Thus, the computer, oboe breath and - later - the mutliphonic become closely linked. At 1'10'', the oboe plays the first single pitch: an alternate B which transforms to the multiphonic described above.

Section 2
A sudden, new, fortissimo, gesture is introduced in the electronics. This is created from pre-recorded, superimposed, staccato oboe multiphonics. A low transposition of two cor anglais mutliphonics is heard, ascending, in the bass. The oboe flourishes are based around the strongest pitches of these multiphonics. The music fades to silence.

Section 3
For the first time, precise rhythmic activity is introduced. The electronic part is, here, derived from the frequencies of five multiphonics heard both live, and computer-generated. These are heard in microtonally adjusted vibraphones and string 'washes'. Microtones are also heard in scale fragments played by the oboe. At the end of the section, the oboe plays the highest B possible, followed by the lowest. The second note is 'caught' by a computer delay and sustained to provide a bridge to the following passage.

Section 4
This returns to the mood of the opening, now played on cor anglais. Five pitches are heard in the electronics. These are the five frequencies which the cor anglais introduces later, live. In the electronic part, these fade in and out and it is not until all five are present that the cor anglais plays the same chord and the two sound worlds fuse. The second part of this section is for ring modulated cor anglais with no other electronic sounds. The passage concludes with a descending microtonal scale and a B 'major' multiphonic heard transposed in the computer.

Section 5
This is a brief electronic bridge during which the soloist changes back to oboe. A pulsing bass swell is combined with a looped crotale figure, the pitches of which are derived from section 3. The oboe enters, pianissimo, with timbral trills on B. As the intensity increases, an explosion heralds are sudden change of pace and mood into:

Section 6
The string chords are reintroduced and form a harmonic spine for the electronic sounds. There is increased microtonality and, again, the content is based on live oboe multiphonics. There is a build, both in tension and density as previous material is reworked and superimposed. The final climax, again uses high and low Bs, before a sudden fade to a B harmonic, double harmonic, a single pitch and - finally - breath.

© Paul Goodey 2002 on www.oboeclassics.com


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