These two percussion etudes explore ideas that have been for some time -and I believe still remain today- at the frontier of new music.
The 1st one -Homage to Nancarrow- is concerned with the perceptual illusion of multiple simultaneous speeds or tempi.
Nancarrow’s music developed in actuality multiple speeds. This was not an illusion. Yet, the irrational rhythms necessary to create his music cannot be played accurately by human performers. Mechanical pianos or computers are required for their precise reproduction.
This movement explores the type of rhythms that create the illusion that multiple independent tempi are being heard while remaining playable by musicians. These polyrhythms are playable because they contain a common pulse that binds them together. The illusion of multiple speeds works when the composer and the performer manage to conceal this common pulse exposing only that which makes these rhythms ‘feel’ completely independent. In the resulting music the five percussion players share one time while creating the illusion that each instrumental part is running free at its own independent time.
The type of polyrhythms I worked with were used already by Chopin in his Fourth Ballade and more recently by Ligeti in his 6th piano etude. However, I wanted to ‘stretch’ their possibilities to the very limit. I wanted to explore not only the appearance of having two or more musical lines running at different speeds but also the illusion that these lines were accelerating or decelerating with regards to each other.
In the second movement Visita a la Frontera- I wanted to revisit a central theme in 20th century art: the discontinuity of form when more than one story are told at the same time.
From the opening bars the listener is confronted with two seemingly unrelated or even incompatible types of music. The fist one is fast, loud and relentless. The second one is slow, gentle and static.
I sought to reach a point in the composition where the juxtapositions, interruptions and collisions between these two types of music become the central force and drama of the piece. I wanted the listener to focus less on the content of each type of music and more on the narrative that emerges from their extreme interaction.
Estudios de Frontera was commissioned by The Peabody Conservatory of Music in the USA.
AV, December 2004.