I’ve isolated one idiosyncrasy on each of the three instruments used in “…when all of the beauty seems just to be wrong..”, which helps to form three separate identities. The piano treats the white and the black keys as separate spaces; the violin plays arpeggiated chords; the clarinetist explores extremes of register by making use of two instruments – one high, one low – and by using the very top and bottom end of each. The piece explores a limited number of interactions between the isolated characteristics of each instrument. At certain points some instruments can be heard ‘borrowing’ from their counterparts, almost as if learning (there’s a link here with Chaya Czernowin’s Afatsim although the sound-worlds are very different).
A tide-change occurs about three-quarters of the way through the work. In the midst of a process of exploration and ‘learning’ the trio stumbles (inadvertently?) into a musical quotation that has no real reason to be heard (a few bars from Radiohead’s Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was). The three individuals, as if aware of their ‘mistake’, suddenly split apart again and stop being quite so exploratory. But they remain affected by the quotation event, superficially and structurally. The final portion of the work takes the same basic approach as the beginning, but everything becomes more tentative and inevitably gets seen in a different light post-quotation.
The entire trio only plays in true unison at the very end of the work. This isn’t to say that their playing together is ‘conclusive’ in any meaningful sense. I see it more as an acknowledgement of a shared journey (to nowhere in particular). The journey was always more interesting than the destination.
The title “…when all of the beauty seems just to be wrong..” comes from a song by Gustav, which also contains the line “we live in their bullet-proof single-apartments” (which seemed appropriate given the Radiohead intrusion). I really wanted to play with the superficiality of beauty and with conformity. The clarinet trio as a medium has huge potential technically, musically and dramatically. This is true even with the restrictions I set myself in the way I treated each instrument. But I wanted to pin the medium into a corner; I wanted it to operate in a confined space and to impute a kind of alienation (between instruments, between musical styles, etc.). What is ‘beauty’? And just what is ‘wrong’? I happen to think Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was is a beautiful song; I also think it’s inclusion here is very, very wrong. But that in itself is no bad thing.
April 2009: Labyrinth, University of Leeds Contemporary Music Showcase
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