Toccata del Mago
for 8 string players & computer




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Duration: 17'

Toccata del Mago is primarily a piece about rhythm. In this respect I was concerned with the exploration of areas of perceptible and non perceptible pulse and the movement from one to the other. There is an area of ambiguity between pulse and no pulse, a sort of no-mans-land which has always attracted me. I wanted to capture in my piece the kind of vertigo that one experiences when pulse is perceived as being present but one cannot pin down the rhythm and the beat to a clear pattern or point of reference.

I used symmetrical and asymmetrical rhythms to create pulse or pulseless lines of music and then made each of these lines gradually transform into its opposite, or combine and juxtapose them into a complex polyphonic structure. Other times I repeated obsessively a short fragment of a chaotic rhythm so that from this repetition a sense of pulse was grown and yet, that which was repeated retained it original chaotic, asymmetrical pulseless quality. This pulsation of a fragment of sound or sound object which itself has no pulse is a characteristic idea of music concret. I often applied this idea in the piece not only to the computer part but also to the instrumental parts. I also explored the often paradoxical relationship between rational and irrational rhythms. The later ones are often perceived as having a very simple pulse until they are played against a grid of rhythms of the former kind. The computer and the strings in Toccata del Mago often function as a point of reference to each other. The nature of the rhythm played by one of them can only be perceived and felt in relationship to the rhythm played by the other.

Hamonically the piece is relatively simple consisting basically of two main chords or harmonic fields . A choral-like sequence is derived from these two harmonic fields as well as two basic melodic cells. There are no melodies as such although the two melodic cells feature extensively in the piece and are often developed in a melismatic fashion similar to that of some eastern ethnic musics . This never accounts for melodic development in the traditional sense of the term and yet the unfolding of this melodic cells contribute and condition the pace and form of the piece.

The computer part was generated by two Yamaha TX816 FM synthesizers and an Akai S900 sampler played by a Macintosh computer using Performer as the sequencer software.

Toccata del Mago was commissioned by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and produced at the M.I.T. Media Lab. from January to March 1987.