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Rebecca Saunders - dichroic seventeen

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James Saunders

on 1 May 2015

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Transcript of Rebecca Saunders - dichroic seventeen

Rebecca Saunders
dichroic seventeen (1998)

Imagine that a seemingly empty page is already full, indeed saturated, with silence before starting to write. It is as if each single note or sound that is then imposed on that already full page must be absolutely necessary. It follows that with the writing down of each new sound it is necessary to adjust the delicate balance between sound and silence.
I need to immerse myself in the sound of an instrument to be able to write for it. As well as establishing the elemental acoustical properties of an instrument, it is also important to learn about its physical characteristics, whether considering the functioning of the bellows of an accordion, the resonating and vibrating double-stops of the violin, the function of sustaining pedal or of layers of resonances achieved with help of the sostenuto pedal on the piano. Understanding how an instrument works, its peculiarities, its sonic characteristics and its mechanics, but also being aware of its tradition, including its function in an ensemble or a concert environment.
In a chosen constellation of instruments lies a very reduced palette of sounds, which I am drawn to and try to push to the limits of their potential. I am interested in sounds that meet the borders of noise and of silence. Taking a sound to its edge has an extraordinary tension. A group of instruments can provide an infinite palette of sounds, so I initially seek to reduce or condense the material as far as possible, to find something like its "essence". Also, where possible, I work closely with musicians (and/or try to borrow instruments) to keep close to the physical reality of the instruments’ core sounds. The clearly differentiated sound worlds that then develop define the direction the form will take. At a certain point I have to block out thinking about the "intention" of the piece. I want to only hear what I can make of the very reduced selection of sounds, within each different palette I have found. This process of going into the chosen sounds (listening to them, pushing them to the edge) is often a long one.
The inclusion of certain concrete sound sources, whether „found“ (music boxes, record players, radios etc.) or „pre-composed“ (piano chords), came about out of a certain musical necessity, and it all began quite unconsciously. Fragments of melody, the voice, whether spoken or sung, concrete sound sources of almost explicit provenance, were for me all normally „forbidden“ musical material, which were given expression within tightly controlled parameters. At some point it became clear to me that these isolated moments, not only had a clear formal purpose, providing strong contrast in terms of density, timbre and musical material, but also an almost theatrical quality. Within the context of a predominantly intense physical musical phenomenology, these are momentary glimpses of a more concrete and overtly emotional agenda, although no clear „meaning“ can be deduced from this material. The associations of these sound objects remain indistinct, suggested but not explicit. At the same time, inserting these objects into a form demands a certain flexibility, requiring me to give up control of one or many parameters - something that I naturally tend to avoid and find necessary to confront.
Decisions involving large scale structure first take on significance when all material has been composed. In recent pieces, it has been the juxtaposition of separately written and strongly contrasting sound-surfaces (or a series of sound objects […]) that creates the structure, the large-scale organisation, of a work. Very few combinations, or collages, of the composed material, are possible. In a sense, the music decides for me how they can best be juxtaposed without losing their strength and individuality. It is this juxtaposition of sound worlds that provides the basis of much of my music. It continues to fascinate me how differently a sound world can be perceived depending on its context in time and in musical space.
concise sonic gesture / extended techniques
sustained single pitch
found objects (music boxes, whistles, metronomes, radios, record player)
quasi-diatonic melody
[all quotes from: Saunders, J. (2006). Interview with Rebecca Saunders. Retrieved 5 September, 2012, from http://www.james-saunders.com/?page_id=1729&preview=true]
At the beginning there is an ‘idea’, but only in the sense that I know what I would like to achieve with a new project – an intention. For example in dichroic seventeen (1998) it was quite simple and straightforward: I wanted to write a two-part form of extreme contrasting sound worlds, where the second part acts as a form of resonance to that of the first. In other pieces I may have come across a sound or a quotation in a book, or a gesture in dance, which serves to crystallise what I wish to pursue in a composition. But how I go about realising this intention depends on what sounds I am drawn to and how I perceive the sounds need to be framed, i.e. in what context they should become audible.
Dichroic adj.
(esp. of doubly refracting crystals) showing two colours.

Dichroic: the property of having a different colour when viewed from a different direction

"...a person who demands attention purely by her being there...processes of development are not unfolded, but instead "conditions of being" are presented in hard-edged sections that cut into each other....figures that did nothing but simply were."Gertrude Stein on her book Ida, 1941.
Adlington, R. (1999). Into the Sensuous World: The Music of Rebecca Saunders. The Musical Times, cxl, 48–56.

Saunders, J. (2006). Interview with Rebecca Saunders. James Saunders. [online] Available from from http://www.james-saunders.com/?page_id=1729&preview=true [Accessed 10 April 2015]

Service, T. (2012). A guide to Rebecca Saunders' Music. The Guardian. 5 November, [online] available from:
from http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2012/nov/05/rebecca-saunders-contemporary-music-guide [Accessed 10 April 2015]
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