Posts Tagged ‘isorhythm’

Clave Patterns in Quiet Rhythms

October 13, 2017

In the Action of Quiet Rhythms no.1, the clave appears immediately in the right-hand in measures 1 and 2 playing a 3-2 clave over the left-hand playing a 2-3 clave. Layering the clave in both hands creates a 3 over 2 polyrhythm in measure 1 and, a 2 over 3 polyrhythm in measure 2 and, so on.

Action 1 m1-4

Starting at measure 89 through to the end at measure 175,  there is an amplitude cross- fade every four bars. The 3-2 clave, clearly standing out in the right-hand, gradually morphs to the left-hand. The perception of the 2 bar clave and 1 bar polyrhythm moves in and out of focus as the volume changes.

Action 1_m89

The amplitude cross-fade creates somewhat of an aural M.C. Escher effect where the ear may focus on either the left or right hand depending on the volume just as the eye may focus on the bird or the fish in varying degrees of clarity.


M.C. Escher

In the Prologue of Quiet Rhythms no. 18. a 3-2 clave rhythm starts at measure 5, but using accents on top of an even 16-note contrary motion pattern that contracts and expands every measure.

Prologue 18_m5

At measure 21 the accents switch to a 2-3 clave expanding in contrary motion every two measures.

Prologue 18_m21

And, then at measure 33, back to a 3-2 clave in a new texture of two-note chords alternating 5ths and 4ths over even single-note 16ths alternating 5th and 4th motion.

Prologue 18_m33

In the Action of Quiet Rhythms no. 18, the clave rhythm is augmented in a 4/2 meter creating a slow meditative quality. The middle line or L.H. is playing the primary 3-2 clave in measures 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 at half speed against the high and low pitched octave drones in the top and bottom staves.

Within each measure there is a 3 against 2 polyrhythm (as in Action 1 above). In measure 1, the 3 against 2 polyrhythm sounds in the middle and top staff. In measure 2, it starts in the bottom staff and then moves from the middle to the top. In measure 3, it traverses middle, top, middle, bottom, middle.

The overall design is a 3-2 clave hocketing pattern of the top and bottom “drone voices” within an 8-bar isorhythmic cycle. It begins again at measure 9 for another eight measures contrasting in a major key and flipped with the bottom staff sounding first.

Action 18_m1

Up until measure 17, the middle staff left-hand chords are a static back-and-forth of 3rd and 4th intervals. At measure 17, they change to a rising pattern of 5ths and 4ths for eight measures.

Action 18_m17

At measure 25, the pattern goes back to the rhythmic design of the opening measures 1-8, but the intervallic movement is the opposite: The top staff moves up and the bottom moves down while the middle moves 4ths to 3rds.

Action 18_m25

Action 18  follows a 32-bar AABA form found in much of American popular song. AABA corresponds to the measures as follows: A (1-8) A (9-16) B (17-24) A (25-32)

An important note is that throughout this series of piano pieces the Action is always composed first. In most cases, the Prologue is sort of a rhythmically smoothed out version of the Action which typically explores a syncopated pattern.

Listen to Quiet Rhythms no. 1 performed by Francesco Di Fiore

Listen to Quiet Rhythms no. 18 performed by Erika Tazawa



Opus One Memphis Interview Part 2

February 24, 2012

First page of Anton Webern's Variations for Piano Op 27 (1937)

You’ve written works for an assortment of instrumental combinations in varying genres! How did your schooling and musical experiences contribute to your compositions? How different is it to write seemingly unrelated genres, like film scores to piano concertos?

Before I arrived at University of Illinois I spent a year and half at Tulane. I had a wonderful piano teacher there named Robert Zemurray Hirsch who introduced me to all the great 20th century composers and I most connected with Webern and his Opus 27. It was truly an epiphany for me to study and play Webern’s music. Since that time, my process has always included ideas of structure, symmetry, cycle, isorhythmhocket and the like. Today, though, my musical language could not be more different than Webern’s. It’s the sheer brilliance and beauty of his constructions, as if he created these immense crystals, that I so admire.

After Tulane, I transferred to Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to completely focus on music. I was 19 and majored in music composition and piano. I used to love to browse through the stacks of scores in the music library and happened across Pithoprakta by Xenakis (coincidentally, also a string orchestra work). I fell in love with his sound world and also that of Ligeti’s. I was deeply attracted to large divisi scores where each member of the orchestra played a different part. Ligeti called it micro-polyphony. I liked large-scale constructions and “clouds” of sound. A few years later at Stanford, I wrote a grand scale divisi orchestral work with almost a 100 solo parts in some sections. It was reminiscent of Ligeti and Xenakis. This was the piece that caught the attention of Earle Brown at the BMI awards.

Listening to my music today you may not be able to tell that I had such a strong interest in the European avant-garde, yet it was that early experimentation for me that helped mold and discipline my process today.  However, it was also not my language and I was lucky to realize this early on. I was mesmerized by their style but the ideas that created their music were not mine. My sound has gradually evolved over many years by trying to imbue each piece with my own ideas. I’ve written everything from piano pieces, string quartets, and wind quintets to vocal, chamber ensemble, choral and orchestral pieces. With each new commission, I feel I am developing my voice. I cannot say that about my pieces from my early 20s yet they somehow helped me get recognition.

The difference between writing a film score and writing a piano concerto is that I am working with a director and serving the needs of the film as opposed to working for myself. I have written many scores for documentary films. When scoring, I always try to give the music an organic connection with the film whether it’s using an instrument or borrowing a folk melody seen or heard in the film. For example, with the silent documentary Native New Yorker (which won the Tribeca Film Festival) I scored it with instruments you see buskers playing. With my recent piano concerto as with other concert works, I can focus solely on the abstraction of sound.

It’s only fair to ask: do you have a musical hero?

Schoenberg without a doubt.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis