Instrumentation: Soprano saxophone, electronic track
One of my old composition professors, John Stewart, told me repeatedly that sometimes composers must “grope about in the underbrush” for an idea—any idea—that they could then turn into a composition.
In the Underbrush (2018) was written as just that: my groping about for an idea to write a melody, in this case by doing lots of math. The saxophone solo line is governed entirely by a twelve-tone matrix derived from a single trichord (014). The first and second half of the row are each a hexatonic scale, and when the row is played in retrograde (a fancy way of saying “backwards”) and transposed down a whole step, it starts with the exact same first six notes in the exact same order as the original row.
Again… lots of math.
I then wrote the melody without ever listening to it, trusting the matrix to do its work. If I had created a good matrix and followed my academic instincts, the final result should, hypothetically, be a great melody. When the melody was finally written—and after one or two tweaks here and there—all I needed was the accompaniment.
The electronic track underneath, which has an “80s Terminator” aesthetic to it, is littered with fragments of the original matrix—the “underbrush” I groped about in for my idea. At no point in the accompaniment, save at the climax, do you ever hear a concrete and thematically sound melody. Instead, you catch glimpses of all the source material of the saxophone melody: statements of the original trichord, impassionate statements of the original row, quick arpeggiations of chords derived from the row, and, finally at the climax, a statement of the main theme you hear at the very start of the work. The groping about finally had its rewards!
Recording coming soon!