Apocryphal Dances
for symphony orchestra & computer




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Total duration: approx. 20'

1st movement: 'Dance to Call a Phoenix'
2nd movement: 'Como un tango y un bolero, como tantas cosas'
('Like a tango and a bolero, like so many things')

Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Apocryphal Dances is a book or collection of imaginary dances which may be played either in the designated order or separately as self-contained pieces. The work currently consists of two movements, lasting approximately 20 minutes.

In the first movement the dance-like quality is heard more in the melismatic nature of the different melodic phrases than in the overall pulse, which moves rather slowly, like a remote ritual. With the aid of a computer I sought to transform the sound of the western symphony orchestra into the sound world of an imaginary ethnic ensemble. To do so I used a computer technique which transforms the sound of one instrument into another, from within the sound itself. The listener can hear a process that does not exist in the physical acoustic world of conventional instruments but is an illusion. This process is similar to the transformation of one image into another that in the last few years has become of frequent use in television and films.
In "Dance to call a Phoenix" I started this process by recording a collection of non European instruments. The different orchestral sections and individual solo instruments of the western symphony orchestra transform into these non European instruments in a continuous way, creating an organic process of timbral transformation. The non European instruments performed by the computer in turn transform back into orchestral masses, establishing a dialogue that forms the fundamental structure of the piece. In slowly moving from one timbre to another, a no-man's-land is created. It is this ambiguous area that interested me most.

The 2nd movement begins with a West African rhythmic pattern played by the timpani, piano, marimba and double basses. Soon, the bassoons join in with a melody not unlike a tango or a bolero followed by a melodic cell played by the strings, taken from Greek music. The listener is unlikely to recognise these sources as such but will hear a woven texture of dances which at certain points may surface separately, and at other times may be heard together as simultaneously layers of a complex rhythmic process.
In this movement I wanted to create the impression of a regular beat which a listener could tap to, only to realise that by the time he is doing so, the pulse has already shifted elsewhere. My intention was to turn the familiar into something ambiguous and uncertain, to imbue these know dances with a sense of 'rhythmic vertigo'.

The research necessary to produce 'Dance to call a Phoenix' was carried out at the composer's private studio with a Research and Development Grant from the Arts Council of England.