33 - Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies
J - Composition
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Topophony focuses on two research questions: (1) how might improvising soloists be involved in music that also involves a composed score for orchestra, and (2) how might sum- and difference-tones determine the structure of such a score?
The initial research involved discussions with the conductor, Ilan Volkov, who had commissioned the work for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, about who should be the improvising soloist for the premiere. At the same time I developed an autonomous compositional structure for the orchestral music which connects a series of harmonic spectra and their inversions by sum- or difference-tones. This structure also accommodates layers of chance operations so that a spectra from across the work may be deposited in other spectra, like glacial debris in a landscape. Such a structure can necessarily only be achieved through an extended compositional process and so I decided that the role of the improvising musicians should be to propose a radically different approach to time: to adopt John Stevens’s term, ‘spontaneous’ composition. The score prescribes no more for them than an instruction that they should not rehearse with the orchestra.
In practice, the requirements of broadcasting and recording has meant that the improvisers have sound-checked with the orchestra.
Topophony was premiered in the 2015 Tectonics Festival in Glasgow and has subsequently received a number of further performances. A chamber orchestra version of work was made and this forms an additional part of this output. In 2018 a CD was released that presents three versions of the orchestral Topophony – two with different pairs of soloists, the other without soloists.