ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSIC FOR THE FLUTE|
By Sarah Louise Bassingthwaighte
Copyright © 2002 by Sarah Louise Bassingthwaighte. All rights reserved.
DIANE THOME: BRIGHT AIR / BRILLIANT FIRE
Born in 1942 in Pearl River, New York, Diane Thome began studying piano when she was seven-and-a-half, and composing when she was eight.  It wasn't until she was a graduate student at Princeton in the late 1960s that she became interested in contemporary electronic media. The computer music programs at this time were tedious to learn and quick to become obsolete. Although a pianist, she doesn't normally perform, although occasionally she will be the pianist for her own works. Diane Thome has covered a vast array of media as a composer, including solo, chamber, choral, orchestra, and electronic works.
Diane Thome is known as a pioneer. She has the honor of being the first in two major accomplishments: Dr. Thome is the first woman to write computer-synthesized music, and she is also the first woman to receive a PhD in Music awarded by Princeton University. Her works have been widely performed during the past three decades, being presented regularly in Europe, China, Australia, Israel, Canada, and the USA. She has been featured on French radio, and was a guest of the Ecole Nationale Claude Debussy, and a composer-in-residence at the University of Sussex, Composers Forum of the East, and the Bennington Chamber Music Festival, and an invited composer to International Computer Music Festivals. (CMJ) Some of her major works include The Golden Messengers, for large orchestra; Three Psalms, for mixed voices and five instrumentalists; Night Passage, an environmental theatre piece which was presented at the Moore College of Arts in Philadelphia; and ANGELS for virtual reality artwork shown at the Biennale des Arts Electroniques in Paris. Yet, it is for her many electronic and electroacoustic works that she has gained much recognition: such works including The Ruins of the Heart, for soprano, orchestra, and tape, Into Her Embrace: Musings on Savitri, for tape, and The Palaces of Memory, for large chamber orchestra and tape. Her complete integration of acoustic and electronic compositions give Ms. Thome an important place in both history and in the promise of what is to come in new music composition. Her music has been released by CRI, Crystal Records, Opus One, Capstone, and Centaur labels, including Palaces of Memory, an 18-year retrospective of her electroacoustic music on the Centaur label. 
Thome holds a PhD and MFA in composition from Princeton, and an MA in theory and composition from the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds two undergraduate degrees with distinction in piano and composition from the Eastman School of Music. Among her teachers are Dorothy Taubman in piano, Robert Strassburg, Roy Hams, Darius Milhaud, A.U. Buscovich, and Milton Babbitt in composition. She has received many awards, most recently the 1994 Washington Composer of the Year and the 199596 Solomon Katz Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. Ms. Thome has received an extensive number of commissions; notable examples include the 1998 International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of Our Time (New York), Belle Arte Concerts (Seattle), and the Marzena Ensemble.
Thome has served as composer panelist for the State Arts Councils in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Illinois; co-chaired the NEW Composer Fellowship program; Regional Chair of the Society of Composers, Inc., and composer board member of the College Music Society. She previously taught at the State University of New York in Binghamton from 1974 to 1977. She is a member of American Composers Alliance and Broadcast Music, Inc.
Dr. Thome has been a faculty member of the University of Washington since 1977, and is currently Professor and Chair of the Composition Program in the School of Music at the University of Washington. (SAI) Since coming to the UW, Diane has taught 18 different courses in music, ranging from composition to tonal analysis, including a current course in electroacoustic music.
Diane Thome was commissioned to write Bright Air / Brilliant Fire in 1996 by Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity. The piece was written in Seattle, and the computer part was realized at Lumiere Studio in Lake Forest Park, Washington, with the collaboration of Robert Austin. This was done using KYMA software running on the Capybara 66DSP System; SoundHack and Deck II.5 software running on a Power Macintosh computer; and a Kurzweil 2000 keyboard. Bright Air / Brilliant Fire was completed in January 1997, and premiered eight months later by Lana Johns at the SAI National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
The program notes that Thome provides with the score read as follows:
The title suggests air and fire, and the contrast between the two. As explained in the liner notes for the Centaur Records release of the composition, "two strands play contrasting and then complementary roles: the electronic music first whispers like the wind yet winds up raging like fire. ...[T]he flute, for its part, sings at the outset with grave deliberation hear how skillfully this opening melody is shaped, how each note and each interval registers with a singular rightness and then, taking cues from the tape, finds a voice of thrilling virtuosity." 
Bright Air / Brilliant Fire is approximately eleven minutes long, and is written for flute and computer-generated sounds. (Originally the piece was noted as being "for flute and tape." Later, the composer modified this to the more accurate "for flute and computer-generated sounds.")
The work is in three sections, titled A, B, and C. In sequence, they comprise what is basically a slow fast slow form. Each movement can in turn be divided into subsections. In discussing the piece, it is necessary to refer to page and line numbers because there are no rehearsal numbers, measure numbers, timings, or other frame of reference.
The first movement, Section A, is three minutes and fifty seconds long. There are four discernible subsections, or subsections, each retaining its own character while still sharing a great deal of common material, which unites the movement as a whole.
The first subsection of Section A lasts from the beginning until the end of line 2, serving as an opening statement that presents the key material in the section while also foreshadowing the general atmosphere of the entire piece. The second subsection lasts from the third line of page one to the Morse-code-like E at the beginning of the second line on page two. It is slightly more moody than the first subsection, its character going from being quite bold to very timid and back again. The third subsection has a wandering quality to it. It begins on the low tremolo in the second line of page 2, and lasts until the flutter-tongued G# at the end of the page. The fourth subsection of Section A consists of page 3, and feels ethereal, cosmic, cool, and yet tender.
Section B consists of six subsections, each of which is clearly defined by a change of key signature and usually framed by a change of dynamics and speed. The movement begins softly, with steady eighth notes in a narrow range. By the end of the section, it has broadened to include the entire range of the flute, at the highest dynamic level and with extreme rapidity.
The third movement, Section C, shares much in common with the first movement in that it is slow, has clear phrases, a variety of note values and dynamics, and many modes of expression. However, it has a somewhat different quality to it, which seems to reflect the gaining of wisdom after having had an adventurous experience (Section B). It is diatonic, which Section A is not, and feels more stable until the entrance of the alto flute at the end, which seems to intentionally throw this stability into question.
As a side note, Sections B and C have, at all times, key signatures at the beginning of each line, and there are no accidentals in the music. This unflinching diatonicism at times sounds very Major in its mode, and other times the focal pitch shifts the sound to a more modal or pentatonic one. By contrast, Section A is very different: it is written without a key signature, and if it had had contained one, it would have required accidentals to retain the particular set of intervals present.
In discussing the nature of pitch relationships in this piece, it can be useful to consider them in terms of (a) the harmonic relationships between the flute and computer-generated sounds, (b) the intervallic content, and (c) the melodic motion in the flute part all of these being quite closely related. It is characteristic of Thome's music that the pitch material be efficient, concise, and somewhat minimalist. Her pitch materials tend to be presented with clarity, and the relationships between pitches are strong and repeated often. An example of this can be seen in the opening movement of Bright Air / Brilliant Fire where G# nearly always moves to G. It seems to be of less importance that intervals recur than the actual instance of one specific note moving to another. For example, in the opening of the first section, we first hear a G# followed by a G. This is a minor second, and we find another occurrence of the minor second in Section A that of the distance between the D and C#. These two pitch sets are repeated quite often, but there are no other occurrences of a minor second anywhere in Section A, except for those between G and G# and between D and C#. This is a natural characteristic of music that uses pitch conservatively, and shows us that it isn't simply which pitches are being used, but in what order they appear that is important. It also doesn't imply a fixed pitch set, one that is manipulated by inversion, retrograde, or some other commonly used device. Rather, it seems as though the material occurs more organically. The pitches evolve and build on previous material, and then are repeated with changes in rhythmic value, octave displacement, and dynamics.
In Bright Air / Brilliant Fire, there are sections and subsections that can be defined first in terms of pitch content. Indeed, it is most often changes from one group of pitches to another group that delineate the beginnings and endings of sections. Thus, we can think of each section as defined by the group of pitches it uses to distinguish itself from the next section. From there we can better understand how the material is manipulated, how it moves and grows within the strict confines of a pitch set with a somewhat fixed order to the pitches.
This can be seen from the beginning of the composition. Throughout the first two pages of Section A, the set of pitches used is G G# D B C# E F# and C. First, the G and G# appear and are established as an associated pair through repetition. Then, at the end of the first phrase (last note of line 1, section A), a D is presented. Its entrance is emphasized by its low register, long duration, and the first use of flutter-tonguing. This kind of emphasis lends directness and clarity to our experience of the sounds.
Now that the D is integrated into the melodic line and at the end of this next phrase, two new notes come into the picture: a third register C# ascending to a third register B (middle of line 2, section A). The C# appears in a passing, somewhat de-emphasized way, acting as a bridge between more emphasized notes. The C# retains this character throughout the first two pages of Section A; it tends to be short (most often a sixteenth note) and unaccented, and typically appears in the middle of a phrase. The only time that the C# gets more attention is on the second page of Section A, in the second measure of line 2. This section is marked to be played calmly, and there are four gentle C#-to-D trills played at a piano dynamic. The high B, on the other hand, is quite clearly emphasized, this time by its very high register, loud dynamic, location at the end of the phrase, and long duration. The rest of line 2 serves to repeat and reinforce the existing pitches.
Line 3 begins with a new note: a long, third register E. Almost every time that we hear this E in Section A, it is in the third register. These notes often hold an identity that includes not only their location compared to other notes, but also their register, length, and dynamics. In the third and fourth lines of the first page, the E is always used in the third register, at a mf or f dynamic. It is consistently the highest note in the line, always moves to a D (which then tends to move to a C#), and is relatively long. In other words, the note and its relationships to those around it are presented again with directness and clarity. Between these Es, the rest of the notes all are voiced while retaining their general character.
The beginning of the second page marks a mood change, with the flute and computer parts both becoming softer and gentler. The expression markings include the terms espressivo, limpid, and molto meno mosso.
No new pitches are introduced, and the lines tend to unfold as we would expect. For example, the E is in the third register and is followed by a D, which is then often followed by the C#. The melodic line crescendos, and in line 2 of the second page in Section A, the melody lands on a high E which reaches a ff and is repeated as an ad lib tongued sound (like Morse code). Again, the use of pitch here continues in the manner initially presented that is, until page two, line 3 of Section A. Here we experience our first new notes in a while: C and F#. The timbre of the computer sounds also changes here, and these last two lines serve almost as a bridge to Section B, while at the same time ending Section A. In all of Section A, we experience the note C only twice.
On the third page of Section A, the music becomes slower, less legato, and quieter. The expression markings include non vibrato, slightly separated, almost hesitatingly, and with tenderness. Two new notes are introduced F# and D# both of which feature prominently throughout this page. Also, B and C# are emphasized, whereas during the first two pages they had been de-emphasized. The notes that had played such an important role previously, G and G#, do not occur at all on this page. Because of this shift in pitch materials, the intervals also change, and so the musical expression is very different.
A final interesting point concerning the pitch presentation during the first two pages of Section A is that the section seems to focus primarily around the note G#. This note not only begins and ends this section, but it is often heard as a long, high note at the beginnings and/or endings of phrases. This implied tonal center helps to define and distinguish this section from Sections B and C, especially considering that Section B uses G# only in passing, and Section C does not contain this note at all.
Section A has a secondary focus on the note D. Most of the phrases end on a D, and quite often the Ds are very long. Significantly, when the piece is looked at in terms of intervals rather than pitches, the G# and D are a tritone apart. It is in this way that Thome creates a character of pitch each is so clearly defined and so consistently used that it becomes in many ways its own character, and this strength of character for each pitch then creates a sense of character for each section of the piece.
Rather than looking solely at the pitch content, the composition can also be viewed as an unfolding of thematic material. When viewed in terms of thematic content, it seems as though Section A consists of four subsections, with each subsection divided into three phrases. The phrases in this section are quite clear, often ending with long notes followed by a certain amount of silence. Since the phrasing and tonal development are quite clear throughout, the sense of thematic development is also quite evident.
The first phrase, which consists of the first line up until the "wind sounds" begin, presents the opening material. The first and second notes of the second phrase are the same as the third and fourth notes in first phrase, but in a different register. Then the phrase is developed with the addition of two new notes and a new rhythm. The third phrase is a note-for-note duplication of the first, but with the rhythms somewhat changed. So, these three closely related phrases create the first subsection of Section A.
The second subsection begins in line 3 of the first page, with the high E. The first phrase of this subsection ends on the longer D toward the end of the line, after which a short triplet motive occurs. The fourth line is exactly the same as the third, except that the rhythms are slightly altered and the triplet motive does not return. Rather, the phrase concludes at the top of page two with a slow motive that is taken from the material of the second subsection. In the third phrase of the second subsection, the subsequent material is also derived from the same pitches of the second phrase, with further alterations in repetition, order, and note lengths. The second subsection concludes with the high Morse-code-like E, on line 2 of page two.
The third subsection of Section A begins with the C# trills, and continues to the end of the section. The third subsection again uses most of the same material as the rest of the section, only adding two occurrences of the new note, C, and five of the new note, F#. The last page of the section is so different from the rest: it seems to function perhaps as an independent section, or perhaps a bridge between sections.
Besides pitch and thematic content, this music can be looked at in terms of intervallic structure as well. Because of the concise use of pitch, and especially of pitch order, intervallic content remains consistent.
Since G and G# are closely associated, as are D and C#, the interval of a minor second will be heavily emphasized for the listener. These also tend to occur in places of importance, such as the beginning, end, or climax of a phrase.
Another interval that is brought to the fore through placement and repetition is the tritone. At the outset, there is a G# moving to a D. An interesting product of the relationship of these three notes is the Perfect 4th: since G and G# occur together, the outcome is that sometimes the D follows the G, at other times if follows the G#. The ear will tend to associate all of these intervals. That is, even if the order of the notes is G G# D, the ear will probably hear the minor second, the tritone, and the perfect fourth, even though the perfect fourth is separated by a note. So, in the first subsection, we hear these three intervals most frequently.
The second subsection (beginning on the third line) achieves a different sound because the addition of the E and its association with the D outlines the Major second as a primary interval. Because the remaining notes are the same as in the first subsection, we still hear the other three intervals, but the Major second becomes highly emphasized, and the music, as a result, has a slightly broader, bolder, and less chromatic character.
The third subsection again shares most of the same pitches as the previous two. However, the addition of the notes C and F# brings into play the first occurrence of Major thirds. This causes more frequent occurrences of Major seconds, Perfect fourths and Perfect fifths, and again changes the musical character of the section. These Major and Perfect intervals are quite diatonic, as compared to the chromatic sounds of the first subsection.
The fourth subsection uses Major and Perfect intervals almost exclusively, while sharing fewer pitches with the other subsections.
An important element in discussing intervals is Thome's use of octave displacement to vary the material. While the order of the pitches has some consistency, one or more notes of a given motive will often be displaced by one or even two octaves. In the first subsection of Section A, the intervals tend to be smaller when reduced (minor seconds, minor thirds), but they are most often separated by the space of more than an octave. The result is that while the relationship of the pitches feels close and the tight, small, and chromatic motives are retained, Thome uses at the same time an expansive range. This combination succeeds in expressing both smallness and expansiveness in the same breath. The following subsection of Section A does less of this; the notes are actually closer together (even while emphasizing the Major second over the minor second), and the music feels more reasonably contained and relaxed (even limpid, as the score indicates). The third subsection is more like the first section, opening out into a more spacious experience.
It can be argued that the careful choice of pitch order was made so as to have control over the intervals used, and to be able to create color and expression through these means. Each subsection can be described in terms of its effect: Subsection 1 is close, mysterious, slightly dark; Subsection 2 is broader, stronger, somewhat intense; Subsection 3 is calm, singing, solid, sensible and, in the end, exhilarating. Working backwards, then, we can see how the choices of particular pitches, pitch order, and the resulting intervallic content help to create these impressions.
Section B represents a very different character from Section A. Instead of a rather subdued, dreamy, and breathy sound, we experience one of high energy. This section is characterized by tight, compact motives, precision, broad gestures, and a slow, steady build toward a climax. As in Section A, the pitch groups are carefully conservative. In this case, the first page of Section B consists entirely of the notes C D E F# B (with a G sneaking in as the upper note of a trill). The flute begins by outlining the chord that is presented first in the computer part: C and E, in a crisp yet gentle two-note repeated motive. The D is then added, filling in the chord.
Here, again, Thome is using the device of presenting pitch material in a minimalist fashion. She begins with two or three pitches (establishing that part of the language), then adding another pitch and letting that new sound be absorbed by the listener and so on, until the complete set of pitches is present.
In this case, the C and E are presented first, followed by a D. Here the use of Major seconds is noted. In line 2 of page four, an F# is introduced as a strong, accented note, emphasizing the tritone. At the same time, the rhythm becomes more disjunct: an F# sixteenth followed by a dotted eighth note C. The dynamic gradually increases, heightening the tension of this new participant, F#.
The next gesture (at the middle of line 2 on page four) introduces the last note of this set of pitches, a B. To do this, the dynamic is brought back down again to a piano, the rhythm is smoothed into steady eighth notes, and thus the B is brought into the mix in a more subdued manner than the F# had been.
Now that all of the pitch material for this subsection (which consists of all of page 4) has been introduced, Thome works with the materials, steadily increasing the rhythmic speed by moving into sixteenth notes and increasing the dynamics, until finally reaching a fortissimo at the end of the page.
The second page of Section B (page five overall) has a key signature of 5 sharps, the same as the key of B Major (as opposed to 5 other sharps), and indeed often begins with and reiterates the note B. Although this key signature certainly has much in common with music written in B Major, the pitches most often do not function in the way that they would in that key. For example, the A#s move almost every time to an E or D# rather than to a B, so there is not much reinforcement of the leading tone. Also, the note on the dominant of B (F#) occurs infrequently and not in a cadential manner. It is ironic that one of the few long notes in the entire section is the F# that occurs at the end of page five, but here instead of resolving to a B, it jumps to a new key starting on Bb, thwarting the last opportunity at Major tonality in this section.
Page 5 contains the beginning of the tremolo motive, which is one of the significant motives in this section. The leaps between the two notes range from the very small minor second to ones as large as a Perfect fifth. The other important motives involve rhythmic patterns and groupings, and range or octave displacement.
The next subsection of Section B begins on the top of page 6 in the new key of three flats. These subsections would clearly imply Eb Major as a key, with the provocatively descending Bb Ab G F that comes just short of Eb, except that it never reaches Eb. In fact, the only notes present are those four, so we are also left without a leading tone. Instead, we have a strong sense of the repetition of the Bb, which has no tonal function. This short subsection is abandoned on the second line of page 6, where we move to another new key, this one with a key signature containing only F#. This section lasts much longer, almost two full pages, and in that time bears little resemblance to either G Major or E minor, and seems to emphasize the note B by placing it in important moments in which the gesture changes. For example, in the third line of page 6, B is the first note to declare the very important repeated note motive that will be the centerpiece of this section. The B is first used as a sixteenth-note sextuplet which is repeated, and four beats later returns, this time in the highest register, (it does the same thing on the next page, second line). After the B, we find F# emphasized, which possibly adds to the sense of B as a tonal center. The F# iterates one of the other very important motives of this section that of the descending four-note pattern, which had actually been introduced at the top of page 6. F# is also the first note of a six-note pattern at the beginning of page 7, which contains the same four notes, with the second note repeated itself before moving down.
Here, as in Section A, octave displacement plays a very important role. The pitches themselves are quite repetitive and the variations occur mostly in rhythmic value and register. In line 3 of page 6, the sextuplets are separated by more than an octave each time the pitch changes, so aside from the unison notes, all the leaps are large. In stark contrast, the repeated motive is one of directly consecutive pitches, the beginning note of each being F#. The motive is repeated exactly, with no change of register in any iterations of the motive until the end of the page, the only change being register. The next sextuplet figure is repeated in the highest register until the triplet motive begins, two octaves below. We continue this leap between three distinct registers throughout the rest of Section B.
The last measure of page 7 bridges this subsection with the next, beginning on the top of page 8. While we return here to a key signature of five sharps, the material is mostly different from the earlier section in this key. Interestingly, this is the longest section in the entire piece using a single key signature the five sharps last from the top of page 8t to almost the end of page 10. The section continues with the sextuplet, repeated sixteenths alternating with triplets. Here, we begin to see a slow shift from a note repeated many times, to a single utterance of each pitch. In looking at the top line on page eight, we see notes repeated in groups of six, which is also seen on the third line. What is significant on the third line is the increase in number of separate pitches, and then by the fourth line of page 8, we see both an increase in the number of separate pitches as well as larger leaps between these individual pitches. Essentially, what is happening is that the large leaps that we saw on the previous page between each group of sextuplets has been condensed into leaps between pitches (rather than groups). The last line of this page is quite disjunct and covers the entire range of the instrument in small gestures. The effect is one of increasing motion and energy, even while the rhythms themselves have not increased. Page 9 continues in this manner, with a gradual increase in the use of nonuplets; now the rhythmic activity slowly increases. Pitch-wise, Thome uses all of the non-chromatic notes available (there are still no accidentals). While this is still a fairly conservative use of pitch, it represents a great deal of luxury and abundance compared with what was experienced in the first section. Most of the musical content here depends on the repetition of the pre-set pitch patterns accompanied by changes and increases in rhythmic activity and a gradual increase in the median range, as well as a long slow crescendo throughout the section. The climax of Section B is reached on page 11, with a repeated pattern that alternates between nonuplets and triplets, contains many leaps, and is in the middle and high range of the instrument. This is finally concluded in three very high, long, fortissimo, trilled notes, which are echoed in the computer part. This last pattern contains many different intervals, but has a noticeably small number of thirds and sixths, and many Major and minor seconds, which not only reminds us of the first Section, but reinforces these as important elements of Thome's musical language.
The significance of the intervallic content of Section B seems to be in the use of the size of the intervals and the frequency of interval changes to reinforce the organic musical form. This is closely related to use of range, and is associated with the dynamics. In general, the section starts out with small, repeated intervals; first, a Major third, followed by a tritone, both repeated many times. For the first page of the section, the range stays for much of the time between the second register Cs and F#s, with a couple of jumps upward. Page 5 shows a greater overall change of register, but the intervals tend to be very small, with many between seconds and fifths with no octave displacement. On page 6, the descending four-note pattern clearly has a tight set of intervals, since all of the notes are adjacent, which alternate with repeated note patterns. These repeated note patterns can be seen as a device to introduce large leaps without feeling excessively disjunct as of yet, and are mixed with groups of single notes that expand the range in smaller increments. By page 8, we see these two tools of expansion begin to mix and feed on each other the repeated notes become repeated less often while still taking large leaps and the single notes continue to expand the distance of their leaps. By page 9, the leaps are sometimes as large as nearly two octaves, and are quite often more than an octave. As the activity increases, the general range rises, and eventually the music seems to plateau on pages 10 and 11 in the middle and high register, with a very high level of energy, very repetitious pitch and interval activity, loud dynamics, and fast notes. Basically, pages 10 and 11 mark an extended climax which has a false conclusion at the top of page eleven, followed by a last surge of energy, to reach its final climax with the trills at the end of the page. It is only after the dying away of the trills that the music begins to breathe again, and the page slowly relaxes and settles into the third section.
The formal structure of Section B seems to be comprised of six subsections, each signaled by a key change. Within each of these sections there is a gradual growth in many musical characteristics, from the beginning until the end. This growth involves virtually all musical characteristics: increase in number of separate pitches involved, faster rhythmic motion, dynamic increases, range increases. In order for this continued growth to be possible, Thome generally pulls back at the beginning of each subsection; that is, when the first subsection has reached its climax, the next subsection begins, with slightly decreased activity, but more activity than the beginning of the previous section. It's a sort of two-steps-forward-one-step-back method. As a result, the entire section exhibits a gradual increase of activity, with slight dips at the key changes. The form of the piece is, ultimately, an almost linear increase, from the quiet, crisp, and small gestures in the beginning of the section, to the expansive, prodigious climax that marks the end of the section. There is a very organic, almost physiological character to this form, which relies not on exact repetition of a motive to mark a return or reminiscence, but rather a constant building upon previous material, almost as though the material itself is nourishment with which to build more material.
In more specific terms, the first subsection, which consists of page 4 (or the first page of Section B) begins with a simple two-note motive, C to E. After this has been comfortably established, a three-note motive begins: C D E. This is followed by a wider two-note motive, F# C. This, in turn, is followed by two more three-note motives, alternating: C E F# and C E B. As this happens, the range of the intervals tends to stay a tritone or smaller, with some larger intervals occurring occasionally. As the note values become shorter, becoming sixteenth notes (the music becomes faster), the three-note idea is explored with different groups of three until the end of the subsection. Now, the second subsection consists of page 5 (or the second page of Section B). Here, we start again with eighth notes so the motion is half as fast, but this time more notes are included and the range is expanded. The intervals used include more fifths, slightly expanded from the previous page. The two-note motive is proclaimed this time as tremolos, moving then to triplets, and at this point, Thome includes four-note groups; the four-note group becomes the new and expanded motive, (third line of page 5). The section ends with yet another new character a quintuplet. The music has moved slowly from duple groupings, to triple, then quadruple, and finally, quintuple. This movement is very carefully controlled, and each grouping is clearly established and often reiterated before a new, progressive grouping is introduced.
As might be expected, page 6 takes us a step back to quadruple groupings. This is where one of the most important motives comes into play four notes descending stepwise. The dynamic level is brought down to a subito piano, and the intervals are decreased in size. Clearly, this is more active than the very beginning of Section B, but less active than the material experienced immediately prior to this. The groups of four are followed by groups of sextuplets, also very important in this section. As we move into the next subsection (line 2, page 6), sextuplets and quadruplets occur with increasing frequency, with occasional triplets. By page 7, the material is comprised almost exclusively of these two motives. As we begin the next subsection, on the top of page 8, the increase occurs not in rhythmic activity, but rather in an increase of range and distance of intervallic leaps, as well as increased variety of gestures. On page 10, Thome uses triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, and nonuplets in the longest subsection with a few dotted rhythms joining the mix. Gradually, throughout the remainder of this subsection, the fastest notes occur more and more frequently, moving us toward the final surge. In the sixth and final subsection of Section B, beginning at the top of page 11, the materials have ceased to expand and simply plateau in repetitive, loud, energy-filled patterns until they seem to come together in the high trills that mark the end of the section. The energy is one of rapture, of enlightenment, and the ensuing decrescendo is the reaction to something realized, experienced, and understood. While Section A may seem inquisitive and wondering, the second, Section B, is one of adventure, knowledge, and elation. The third section, Section C, takes us in the expected direction: one of assimilation, contemplation, relief, and relaxation, with the hint that there is more yet to be learned.
As the last section of the piece, Section C, begins, the music quickly becomes more reflective, contemplative and relaxed. Like Section B, Section C is entirely diatonic, with the exception of an Ab that occurs twice in the alto flute part. The notes used consist entirely and exclusively of the notes of the G Major scale, and the key signature is one sharp, F#. The focal notes, though, are B and D, and G Major is never implied as the key. The importance of the notes B and D is shown in many ways. First, the movement begins with a five-note gesture, B F# B E D. B is emphasized in that it is the first note heard and that it is repeated and D is emphasized in that it ends the phrase and has a fermata over it. The next gesture also begins with a B, as does the following one. On the second line of this page, page 12, a third register B is reached, is fortissimo and has a fermata. On the third line, each gesture begins with a D, first in the second register, then in the third register, and finally in the fourth register. This is the highest note of the entire piece, and only occurs once. While there have been a large number of high Bs, (so many, in fact, that this note in this particular register gains increased significance), a fourth register C never occurs, and the third register A is quite rare. The high D and B stand out quite plainly. At the very end of page 12, a third register D is flutter-tongued at a fortissimo dynamic. On page 13, this same method of emphasis occurs: on the third line, a high B is fluttered, a method, it is remembered, that Thome uses in the first movement to emphasize the G#, which is the tonal focus of that section.
The alto flute enters the piece on the fourth line of page 13, and in many ways seems to embody the voice of a different character; the statement is short, slow, and careful. The motive begins on a C, and reiterates this note often, which the previous section does not. More importantly, though, is the insertion of an Ab; while it is pianissimo and quite short, it makes an impression, simply by being so isolated and unusual in the context. The sound here is somewhat darker than the previous music, and there is almost a sense of keeping the other in check, possibly even of warning. This phrase last only one line, and then the flute returns, with a short, expressive, and empathetic melody, higher and returning to the tonal focus of the earlier part of the section. The last line of the piece is played again on the alto flute, reiterating its statement, and finally trailing off slowly and quietly with a long B followed by a very long D. The sense is that the voice at the beginning of Section C is joyous, exuberant, and at times reflective, and that the alto flute counters this optimism with just a hint of carefulness, or perhaps a sense that not everything is yet understood or stable. Thome artfully uses carefully chosen pitches, that, in the end, give us a sense of having experienced an adventure or achieved an understanding, but with a feeling of anticipation, rather than one of repose.
The intervals that are used in this last section are much the same as in the previous two sections, with an alternation between stepwise and leaping motion. As before, the leaps often change direction; that is, if the first interval leaps downward, then often the second will leap upward. Quite often the leaping gesture happens on a triplet, so the shapes of most of the triplets are alike. In contrast, when the group is larger, such as quintuplets or sextuplets, the notes tend to move in the same direction and be stepwise. A new device is used on the top of page 13: the triplets do not retain this angular shape, and instead move downward in a descending motion. The articulations and the shapes of the gestures cause them to have a light and playful tone, a sense of relief and unloading a burden are felt. The lightness and openness is reinforced on line 2 of page 13, at which point the descending four-note motive contains entirely whole steps. On the third line of this page, the most smoothly shaped melodic motive is heard, (E C B C B G C F# A). The manner in which the half step is presented gives us the strongest sense of a hierarchical functioning tonal center that we've experienced in the piece.
In the alto flute part, there is again a mix of stepwise motion with large leaps, which is then followed by a recurrence of the melodic motive in the flute. The alto flute's final statement consists entirely of leaps. A question arises when considering the alto flute part: since all of the notes written for the alto flute are playable on the C-flute, why did Thome choose to score these two short lines for alto flute? There is the notable timbral difference between the two instruments, which can be connected with the idea of the alto flute being used to convey a voice separate from the flute voice used in the rest of the piece. It is used only at the end, because the voice of warning or wisdom or guidance is only necessary after the character of the flute has completed its journey. The fact that the alto is not used elsewhere implies that the journey has taken the character to a new and different place than that from which it departed.
After such detailed discussion of the pitch content of the flute part, it is important to understand how the sound of the computer relates to it. The sounds in the tape part tend to be complex, and are better described by their effect rather than their pitch. Even with the pitches of the taped part notated, it isn't because these pitches are emphasized, but only to give the flutist a reference point. Because of the nature of some of the tape sounds they are sometimes not heard in a context of pitch. The flute line, at those times, is going to be neither consonant nor dissonant with the tape, in terms of pitch. During the times when the tape part is pitched Thome has made the choice to avoid strong dissonance in favor of predominantly diatonic harmonies. The first time that specific pitches are notated in the tape part is in Section A, toward the end, where she has written D# C# D#. This is done first to signal the beginning of a new gesture in the tape, as a cue to the flutist, but also serves to point out the relationship between the flute and tape pitches. Not only do the tape cues help the flutist to become aware of the D#s and C#s in both parts, but also these cues bring attention to the importance of intonation at this point. The fact of the tape and flute iterating the same pitches lends a sense of calm and unity, and while the flute digresses to other pitches, it comes back to the C# and D# continuously. The overall effect is one of shimmering between the two pitches.
This is followed by a distinct harmonic change, which is not notated in the tape part, first in the tape at a lower pitch, followed by the flute, which then outlines the new harmonic gesture to end the section.
The tape part is the bridge (there is no silence between sections) between Section A and Section B. The first page of Section B consists entirely of pitches from the set [C D E F# B with one G sneaking in as a trill]. A significant difference here is that there is a strong yet gentle sense of pulse in this section, and the precision and regularity of this is emphasized by the gradual addition of new pitches. A harmonic shift marks the beginning of the B section, with the tape presenting a C-D-E chord. As with the flute part, the addition of pitched sounds in the tape part is careful and conservative. The pitches are added to the tape part in the same order that they were in the flute part, but they come a few seconds later in the tape part. For instance, the F# is introduced on line 2 of the flute part, but not until line 3 of the tape part. The tape part is not intended to be strictly coordinated with the flute, and Thome has occasionally written in gestures in the flute part that are to be vamped until a change in the harmony of the tape part is heard. This is where the specific notation of pitch in the computer part becomes important; it is the only method by which the flutist can determine the speed and length of what is being played.
For the most part, the notated pitches in the tape part reflect the pitches being played in the flute part. An exception is on page 6, where a B is on the tape staff, but no B exists in the flute motive at that point. With the exception of the earlier example of the D# C# D# motive in the tape part at the end of Section A, intonation with the tape part is of less concern than with other flute and tape pieces. This is a result of the complexity of the taped sounds, which contain much more at any given moment than a single pitch, and because the relationship between the flute and the tape is more of expressive content than of melodic gesture.
In looking at the score of Bright Air / Brilliant Fire, we see that a staff for the flute part and for the tape part both is included at all times. The next thing we will notice is that there is very little written on the tape staff. Sections A and C contain mostly descriptions of the sounds, while Section B consists mostly of chords. It seems as though the tape staff is included primarily for the coordination of the flute and tape parts, and not so much to outline the highlights of the taped sounds. Frequently, there may be an entire line or two with nothing at all notated on the tape staff, which implies that while the flute should coordinate with those markings, in between there is much more freedom. In order to learn, hear, and understand the tape part, (which is, after all, an intrinsic part of the piece), the flutist must listen to a recording of it, rather than depend on score study.
The sounds in the tape part are all slowly-evolving, evocative, complex sounds, and seem to function as the universe in which the flute is present. The relationship is not so much one of equality and partnership; the tape functions more as the environment in which the flute is present. This is not to say that the tape part is completely independent of the flute; the parts reflect each other in dynamics, richness of sound, and level of energy, and to a certain extent, in actual pitch and timbre. The piece begins with a wind sound in the tape, which the flute imitates after the first phrase. The wind sounds build in dynamic toward the beginning of the second line, and for the rest of that page, swell and relax slowly. The next page begins with a distinctive, low, slow oscillating gesture, which is immediately repeated. It then dissipates while the flute continues the line. As the flute nears a higher, more energetic spot (at the beginning of line 2 on page 2), a windy "whoosh" sound is heard in the tape (and is notated in the tape part).
Next, on the same line, the tape staff has the words "new gesture," then "gesture repeats." This new sound is higher, and has a somewhat nasal quality. The next line also indicates a "new gesture," followed by two "whooshes." This time the new gesture is lower, warmer, and calmer. The flute builds to a climax on the bottom of page 2, where the tape takes over for sixteen seconds. During this time, the tape moves from the excitement of page 2, to the airy and cool sounds of page 3. The expression marking at the top of page 3 is ethereal and slow, like distant stars. This is where the tape first has notated pitches, which are reflected in the melodic line of the flute. The flutist can use less or no vibrato to suggest the lightness and coolness. One may be reminded of the cosmos, weightlessness, clarity, or shimmering. On the next line the computer becomes much lower, ceases the shimmering sound, and becomes warmer. Here, adding some vibrato in the flute part effectively reflects the changes in the tape part.
As Section B begins, the slow evolution of the tape part continues at approximately the same pace, but the sound is very different. Now it has a stable, diatonic sound, more earthbound in its character, and more closely related to the sound of the flute. Throughout the section, the tape is indicated by pitch rather than description, with the exception of the bottom of page 10, where the tape part is notated molto vibrato, whoosh. The sound of the tape throughout this section remains similar throughout, with the important changes being those of pitch, range and dynamics, all of which are reflected in the flute part. In each subsection, the tape part starts somewhat quietly, builds, then steps back just a bit as each new subsection starts, to effect a gradual growth in dynamics. The range also starts in a middle register, and in the same manner gradually rises somewhat, reaching its height on page 10. As the flute material plateaus on page 11, so does the tape part, with almost no change at all until the new sound (signaled by a G and A on the tape staff) which cues the flute to begin the final trills. Although it isn't notated, the tape part contains sounds very much like the trills of the flute, and repeats this sounds as the section ends, with both the flute and tape ending in fairly high registers.
The beginning of the last section is signaled by a sudden steep descent in the tape part, a descending glissando. In this section, a few new sounds are encountered. After the glissando, which is a more focused and directed sound than most of those heard earlier, there is the sound of rushing water accompanied by some high-pitched bell-like sounds. This brings us completely out of the energy of Section B, into the relaxation of coming back down to more earthly sounds. The "whooshes" of Section A return, although the flute material is different this time. Immediately prior to the entrance of the alto flute, there is a "suspended cymbal" sound in the tape part, which seems to express mystery, warning, or suspense. The alto flute enters over a pulsed, low chord, quite different from the windy, higher sounds that have generally been present. The tape part then begins a slow descending glissando, which continues until the end of the tape part, going continually lower and lower until it fades out. At the very end, the tape cuts out, leaving the flute alone to finish the piece. It is this last material in the computer part that supports the idea of the alto flute representing a different voice. While the flute has remained optimistic throughout the last section, the entrance of the alto flute and the descending glissando in the tape part dampen the optimism, leaving the flute lower and ultimately alone. There is some sense that the flute has again reached the earth after a journey into space, supported by the low register and slow movement at the end.
The way that sound moves through time is an interesting discussion, and our traditional definitions of rhythm and form don't as readily apply to new music as they used to. Bright Air / Brilliant Fire is notated with no meter, and occasional, irregular barlines. The cues in the tape part are not accompanied by minute and second indications; that is, how many minutes into the piece does this happen. If the flute were to play with strictness in speed according to the tempo markings, it would not match up with the changes in the computer. Clearly, there is a great deal of freedom of interpretation in the relative speeds and lengths of notes in the flute part. Because of this freedom, relationships are relative, and it makes more sense to discuss rhythm by discussing motives, lengths of notes, and lengths of gestures.
One prominent characteristic of note values in Bright Air / Brilliant Fire is the use of groups of notes, and particularly groups of three, five, or six notes. In each of the three sections, there are many triplets, and the similarity between these serves as a unifying gesture throughout the work. The first triplet encountered is on the first page, and contains a large leap upward followed by a medium leap downward. The disjunct motion, as mentioned earlier, occurs very frequently. In Section A, examples of this include the triplets on the end on line 3, page 1, the end of line 1, page 2, middle of the third line, page 2, middle of fourth line, page 2, middle of first line, page 3, and the last line of page 3. In other words, on virtually every line of music in Section A, a disjunct triplet appears. Triplets occur during every subsection of every section of the piece; more often than any other rhythmic motif. The importance of the triplet motive becomes even clearer when we see that Thome has notated two-note groups as a triplet (one note being twice as long as the other, bracketed with a triplet). Given the freedom with which note lengths can be executed, the triplet will not be experienced in a metered way; the importance, and the experience, of the triplet are more psychological than exact. The performer will group and play the notes in the manner of a triplet, and the listener will experience this at some level.
Quintuplets also function in much the same way, but are confined mostly to Sections A and C, playing a lesser role in Section B. Like the triplets, the quintuplets often are made up of less than five notes (see Section A, top of page 2, or Section C top of page 13). Especially interesting is the occurrence of a sextuplet on page 2 (end of second line) that contains only five notes, following a rest replacing the first note. Again, given the lack of a pulse, the reason for choosing a sextuplet rather than a quintuplet is unclear, but is obviously deliberate. It can be argued that these figures contribute to a feeling of openness and expansiveness, and less to a feeling of energy and detail; therefore, they will play a more important role in the first and third sections. As discussed earlier, these sections are slower, span the registers in a more deliberate manner, and have a feeling of clarity and openness. Possibly, the increased use of smaller, tighter figures including the sextuplets and nonuplets, as well as a greatly increased use of quadruplets, is a conscious tool toward increasing activity, attention to detail, and concentrating energy in Section B.
Another rhythmic contrast between the slow sections and Section B is the use of regular versus irregular rhythms. The slow sections contain a great variety of rhythms, changing note values with almost every note change. In fact, it is almost exclusively in the triplets and quintuplets that two notes next to each other will have the same value; otherwise, they are consistently varied. In looking at Section A, page 2, third line, it can be seen that no note value is repeated consecutively. This would lend a sense of unpredictability, of pulselessness, and contemplation to these sections. This is in stark contrast to the B section, which has a sense of pulse in the flute part throughout (although it has at no time a sense of meter). The note values remain constant for a few beats, and often for many beats. For example, in Section B, page 7, line 2, the entire line consists of sextuplets. The following line consists entirely of quadruplets. Even at the end of the section, on page 11, we have a feeling of consistent rhythm, although the values change somewhat. Here there are nonuplets mixed with triplets; the subdivision of the nonuplets can be felt as the triplets are performed, so it is, in effect, steady motion.
In Section A and in Section C, Thome creates clear phrases by placing a note of long duration at the end of each phrase. She also will emphasize a note in mid-phrase through length, as was mentioned earlier. The music breathes and moves easily and comfortably, sometimes pushing forward, others settling back. The use of register and rhythm go hand in hand to create a feeling of ebb and flow, including moments of high energy (see Section A, last line of page two) and of seeming motionlessness (see Section A, first line of page 2). The way that the music moves through time here is much like the way the computer part moves through time; pulseless, expansive, free of the binds of measured time. These characteristics are much more typical of computer music than they are of mainstream classical music, and are examples of the way computer music has changed (or resulted from an evolution of) our sense of motion in music.
In contrast, Section B does not breathe in the same way. Rather, there is the sense of drive, of energy, of motion forward or upward. An important difference here is that the phrases are not delineated by long notes, but rather by a change in the rhythmic pattern. Because there are patterns, and because the patterns last for a few seconds each time they occur, we feel these changes as phrases. The changes in patterns are simultaneous with changes in pitch and often register as well. The only sense of any ebb in the motion occurs when a new subsection is begun and the note values are longer, albeit temporarily. For example, moving from the bottom of page 4 to the top of page 5, the rhythmic values change from sixteenth notes to eighth notes. Still, the motion is constant and the pulse is steady. The beginning of the third subsection (top of page 6) has an indication to go a little slower (poco meno mosso ); another subtle tool for having a little flexibility in the music. Otherwise, throughout the movement the rhythm is fairly relentless and the energy is steadily increasing, continually moving ever upward toward the long climax. Through rhythmic means, Thome has managed to propel the music continually for four and a half minutes in one direction, not an easy feat. This would not succeed with a linear increase of speed or dynamics or range; this would, instead, create a static quality. Rather, it is successful because she carefully balanced variety with repetition, and varied the use of time, expansion and contraction, and pitch materials.
After thoroughly discussing the pitch and rhythmic materials, it becomes clear that the use of the full range of the flute, and of careful registral writing contributes greatly to the expressive qualities of the piece. The lowest note in the piece is a middle C, and the highest is the fourth register D; the full range of the flute, with the exception of rarely played altissimo notes, is used. The range is manipulated carefully throughout the piece. In general, Thome tends to use a small range to reinforce a lower energy gesture, and a large range for the highest energy gestures, and a great variety of ranges in between. She manipulates range to effect contraction and expansion, part of what gives the music a breathing quality. The beginning of Section B is a nice example: the range in the first line is of a Major 3rd, the second line is primarily a Perfect 4th, the third line primarily a 9th, and the fourth line an 11th. On pages 9 and 10, it can be argued that the energy is at its wildest, before finally becoming concentrated into the climax. Part of the wildness comes from the use of a huge range, (a range of three octaves), variety and speed of the rhythms, and increase in dynamics. Range is used to build excitement, but is also used to show expansiveness, in all three sections. A large range creates a feeling of broadness, grandness, and universality. Because a large range is used in each section, the sections have the unifying factor of this expansiveness, although in different ways.
In the first and third sections, the range is used less to slowly build and more to create a feeling of naturalness and breath. This is partly a result of the frequent changes in dynamics and note lengths as well, which contrast with the relentless qualities of Section B.
Register is a slightly different issue. When discussing pitch content, it was seen that some of the pitches were connected with a certain register, with both qualities blending to create character. In Bright Air / Brilliant Fire , there is often a clear distinction between low, middle, high, and very high notes or gestures. In Section C, page 12, third line, we see the same gesture (D descending stepwise to G), repeated three times low, once in the middle, and once in the high register. On the first two lines of this page, we see the phrases being distinguished from each other by which register they mainly occupy, (the first phrase of the section begins low, the second phrase is middle, the third is low again, the fourth is high, and the fifth is middle). The sense of register is emphasized when we associate certain pitches with certain registers ; in Section A, the note E was found almost exclusively in the third register. This reinforces not only the note E as a point of reference, but also defines the third register as separate from other registers. This kind of high-definition of function and personality is akin to depth of character in literature, something with which many of us are familiar. There is a sense of high notes as being brighter and more energetic, and low notes being darker and slower, which is a common approach to register. But the use of register is not limited to these tools. Rather, register is a means of defining and distinguishing notes, gestures, phrases, and sections from each other.
Lastly, in the analysis of this piece, dynamics work alongside all of these other tools to strengthen the expressive effect of the work. In the first and third sections of the piece, the dynamics vary frequently but not suddenly, lending a feeling of natural ups and downs, ebbs and flows, of a living, contemplative entity. Section B shows a steady increase in dynamics, with the slight steps back at section changes, again to keep a sense of being alive and breathing while still building steadily. Section A begins softly, goes through many dynamics and levels of energy, and ends softly. Section B begins softly, goes through its growth, ending with quite a full, loud volume. Section C begins softly, again moves through a variety of dynamics, and ends softly again. The dynamics are often connected with range, but not always. Most of the time, the highest notes are indeed loud (end of Section B), and the lowest notes are soft (end of Section C). Other times, though, there are high, soft notes, such as on the second page of Section A, the whole first line. Here, a third register G# and B both occur at a pianissimo dynamic. In Section B, there are occurrences in the lowest range at a forte dynamic, in part because of the use of a large range to build energy. In Section C, at the end of the third line of page 12, there is a group of lowest register notes at a fff. The dynamics in this piece are consistently carefully marked, and at no time is the performer wondering about what dynamic levelto be playing. Clearly, the dynamics are important to the composer, and their function is carefully manipulated. Also, the execution of the correct dynamics is vital to the full expression of this piece in performance.
There is actually very little use of extended techniques in Bright Air / Brilliant Fire. There is somewhat frequent usage of flutter tonguing, which is hardly considered an extended technique anymore. That leaves only four occurrences of extended techniques. First is the composer's call for ad lib; hum or wind sound, which is found at the very beginning of the piece, at the end of the first line on page 1. On page 2, line 2, there is a marking for ad lib, tongued sound. This is followed on the same line by a timbral trill, and finally a toneless pizzicato.
The first extended technique, the hum or wind sound, is notated by four slashes in the staff of the flute score. The sound can be produced in a variety of ways. A nice effect can be made by blowing into the tone hole while closing it off completely, or by blowing across the tone hole in conjunction with a fingering that produces a breathy or white noisy sound. Also the player can use the voice to hum or sing simultaneously blowing across the tone hole. It can be quite effective to change fingerings between various unpitched sounds during the course of the wind sound.
The ad lib tongued sound refers to a Morse-code like sound produced by tonguing the note in irregular patterns for the duration indicated. In this case, the note is a whole note with a worded direction above it, so the tonguing should continue until the beginning of the next event. In other pieces of music (e.g. Quartet for Diverse Flutes by Peter Bacchus [ Peter Bacchus score of Quartet for Diverse Flute, publ. Peter Bacchus, 1990]), this is referred to as Morse code, because the irregularity is reminiscent of the short-long code used in Morse code. Thome refers to it simply as ad lib tongued sound.
A timbral trill is a trill which occurs between two different shadings of the same note. In this score, it is indicated by notating one C# and writing the words timbral trill above it. Usually, one of the trilled notes uses a conventional fingering while the other will be an unusual fingering, sometimes indicated by the composer. The effect is a colorful shimmering between the two pitches, rather than of hearing two distinct pitches. In this instance, the trill is between a conventional fingering of C# and a timbral fingering of C#. The fingering is not indicated in the score, so the player has the option of various fingerings. In my performance, I used a timbral fingering for both notes. The first C# was fingered using all of the fingers of the right hand, with the pinky on the C# key. The second C# was fingered by adding to that the left hand thumb, second, and third fingers. The tremolo was effected by opening and closing the fingered holes of the left hand.
The toneless pizz is an uncommon term, and in order to understand how to execute this, I conferred with the composer. Like the timbral trill, it is notated simply by indicating above a single pitch that this should be performed as a toneless pizz. It was her intention to hear an irregular, repeated note that had a somewhat veiled sound, with a light, faintly percussive effect. My solution was to use the fingering for the first register C minus the first finger of the left hand, and repeat the note three times unevenly.
Executing new effects is one of the joys and challenges of performing new music! For some of the extended techniques, notation and pedagogy is becoming standardized, but there will always be experimentation with new sounds. This is where direct contact with the composer is helpful, and to see these living composers as the resources they are is one of the great advantages of playing current music.
In Bright Air / Brilliant Fire, Thome has notated the entire score with two staves; one for the flute, and one for the computer. The computer staff does not indicate all of the computer sounds, and is not intended as a computer score; rather, it is included in order to help the flutist synchronize with the computer. The computer staff in Sections A and C contains worded description of the computer sounds, along with some dynamic markings. Some examples of the descriptions include tape builds, peak of cresc., low register oscillating gesture, new gesture, "whoosh", harmonic change, molto vibrato, descending glissando, rushing water sound, and suspended cymbal. At the end of Section A, on line 1, page 3, Thome has indicated three pitches. Otherwise, in Sections A and C, no pitches are indicated.
In contrast, Section B contains almost solely indications of pitch and key signature, with only occasional worded descriptions. This is evidence of the sounds in Section B being much more pitch-oriented, and in Sections A and C, the sounds tend to be less associated with pitch and more with evolving, complex sounds.
The notation of the piece involves the use of some conventions, such as notes with beams, durations, and even a metronome marking. The actual execution of these durations, though, is somewhat flexible due to the absence of barlines and uneven rhythms. Sections A and C are rhythmically interesting but without pulse, so the notated durations of the notes are relative rather than exact. There are barlines at some points, including at the end of some lines (but not all), and sometimes in the middle of lines. In getting to know the piece, it's my conclusion that the barlines are indicative of phrases, and are included in order to help the performer understand the phrasing. One other unconventional notational device is the use of a boxed set of notes to indicate repetition. For example, at the very end of page 4, a group of twelve notes is separated from the surrounding material by being placed in a box, with the direction ad lib, as needed to arrive with chord change on page 5. This device makes it possible for the flutist to sync up again with the tape part after having had some liberty at the beginning of the section. This is used at the end of page 5, and again on the third line of page 11.
Other than these exceptions, the notation is fairly standard, and is quite easily understandable by any performer. There is careful care taken with notating the dynamics, the durations, and the articulations throughout the piece.
Synchronization between the flute and the computer part in Thome's piece is something of a challenge, becoming manageable with practice. Part of the difficulty is that the moments where synchronization is notated in the score are fairly few and far between, leaving a possibility of poor pacing as well as a large degree of inaccuracy. Sometimes the length of time between notated computer events is as long as thirty or forty seconds (as on the first page of the piece), during which time an unpracticed flutist could become quite a bit off from the computer. In the second section, as well, there are great distances between notated events; this coupled with the flutist's highly active part again can cause some difficulty. During the longest section in one key, which includes pages 8, 9, and most of 10 (with a key signature of five sharps), the sounds in the computer are evolving quite slowly, and the notation of the computer part isn't always easy to identify with the sounds being heard. The flutist has a lot of technical material to execute, along with identifying very subtle changes in the computer part. In Section C, as well, there are sections of several seconds where there is no indication on the computer staff at all.
So, then, how does the flutist practice being in sync with the computer? In the end, it comes down to an aural familiarity with the computer part, a sense of how much time has passed, as well as continuous practice at the correct tempo to succeed in synchronization. The flutist needs to listen frequently to the computer part, become familiar with the pace of the evolution of its sounds, and with the subtle changes that occur. It is helpful to understand all of the computer sounds, and certainly not just those that are indicated in the score. It is important to acknowledge the computer part as a voice of its own, rather than dependent or subject to the flute part. The flutist will gain a sense of the pacing by both practicing with the computer part and by listening to a recording of an accurate performance. With the former method, the flutist will become aware if a landmark has been reached and is unsynchronized, and can adjust the tempo accordingly, eventually finding a tempo that works. In the latter, the correct tempo will be heard, and eventually, memorized by the flutist. There are tempo markings at the beginning of each section, but if these markings are taken extremely literally, synchronization will not occur. The indications are estimates, and the exact pacing is dependent upon the flutist.
Once the correct pacing has been established, it's simply of matter of practicing at this tempo frequently, both with and without the recorded computer-only part. While the large amount of latitude is at first a difficulty, after much practice it is quite welcome in that it leaves room for expressiveness as well as varying the tempo as desired.
The method of practicing this piece consists very much of what was just discussed concerning synchronization. Besides the practice techniques mentioned above concerning synchronization with the tape, basic practice techniques are appropriate. One of the challenges of the piece is the length of Section B, and the endurance it takes to play a continuous stream of notes with little respite. The solution would be to practice the piece as a whole, or at least Section B as a whole, often, simply to understand how to pace oneself and build endurance. A piece for flute and tape, much like a piece for flute alone, often requires a great deal of endurance from the flutist, and it helps for the flutist to be mentally and physically in shape and prepared.
A couple of considerations come to mind when planning to perform Bright Air / Brilliant Fire. One is the equipment one must have available. The program notes do not indicate the use of a microphone for the flutist, or any degree of reverberation, or any specific method of amplifying the tape part. My experience, including when recording the piece with Diane Thome present, was to perform the piece with no amplification of the flute of any kind, nor of any alteration of the tape part, which is heard through a standard stereo system.
The other consideration is one of reading the score, and especially of performing with the score if the piece is not memorized. It is impractical to read from the published score because of the existence of both a flute and tape staff, the score is rather bulky and requires many page turns. The page turns are not a problem in Sections A and C, but in B are not possible from the published score. The solution is to make a copy of the score, cut off the tape staff except where necessary, and paste all of it onto a hard backing. The final product will be larger than the score, and may require more than one stand to hold it. My final solution was to use two pieces of posterboard, using a total of three sides. The first side contained Section A in its entirety. On the back of this piece I could fit Section B up until eight lines before the end of the section. On the second piece of posterboard, I put the remainder of Section B and all of Section C on the front, and the program notes on the back. I used two stands. On the left stand, I put the first piece of posterboard, which I flipped over at the end of Section A during the tape solo. On the right stand, I put the second piece of posterboard, so that by the beginning of Section B, the entire remainder of the piece was visible to me. A nice thing about being able to see the entire piece at a glance is that it helped me to get a sense of the pacing of the piece. Spatially, I was quite aware when I was at the beginning, or a third of the way through, or coming toward the end. As a performer, it helped me to choose my energy level, dynamic level, and so on, in order to expressively build the piece the way I had intended. If the piece had been visually broken up into smaller pieces, this would have been less evident. In any case, there are a number of solutions to performing the piece, including having a page-turner, or memorizing the piece.
Footnotes (See Bibliography.)
 Virtual Encounters Concert, ASU, 2001, program notes.
 Diane Thome, liner notes to Computer Music Journal Sound Anthology, 22 (1998).
 George Gelles, liner notes to Bright Air / Brilliant Fire: ElectroAcoustic Music, Centaur Records Inc., CRC 2527 (2001).
|Electroacoustic Music for the Flute by Sarah Louise Bassingthwaighte.|
Copyright © 2002 by Sarah Louise Bassingthwaighte. All rights reserved.