luminous, ghosts of motion …and beyond

I have been notably absent from the blog over the last three or so weeks. This is a consequence of my being nosedown in a pair of pieces, both now provisionally finished. The first is luminous for solo vibraphone, written for Sylvia Smith to publish in her celebration volume Vibraphone Century. I must admit to having been slightly surprised that the vibes is no older than that; but then it is synonymous with modernism and perhaps the sound was not needed previously.

The piece that followed is ghosts of motion for clarinet d’amore. This is an instrument that Richard Haynes has developed from an 18th century model, and is essentially a basset clarinet in low G. I have written for a basset clarinet before, for my old friend Robert Schuck, who was a student of Alan Hacker and possessed a rare B flat basset. Sadly, Bob died unexpectedly in 2013, and I dedicated my Piano Sonata to his memory; however, I was sorry to have missed the opportunity to write a substantial piece for him and his lovely clarinet. Richard’s request for a new work for the clarinet d’amore brought to mind this unfulfilled intention, and I realised that I could also consider the work as a posthumous piece for Bob—for his ghost, if you like. Bob was a contemplative, modest, and sensitive musician and I have tried to catch those personality traits in the work. The score, engraved as ever by Andrew Bernard, will appear on the Scores for Download page very soon.

I had proposed to move straight on to writing my long-planned, large-scale, solo bassoon piece for James Aylward, arcanabula. However, after finishing ghosts of motion I felt the need to clear my head of clarinet tropes before launching into another woodwind piece. The experience of writing luminous was a happy one, and it occurred to me that there is a sequel to Greg Egan’s story luminous on which the vibes piece is based, called dark integers. This seemed a very good fit with my musical thinking and processes, and I have embarked on a new piece, also for vibraphone, using this latter story as a basis. It will, of course, be called dark integers, and I am developing a suitably arcane numerological substrate to match the title.

All three pieces are from my informal series of iso-études. There will be more of these—in fact, they will continue to appear for as long as lockdown persists—including:

resuscitatîve for contrabass, for Miranda Hill;

fasti for E flat clarinet for Heather Roche;

passacaglie for harpsichord, for Luca Quintavalle;

vaguenesses for viola; and

in Platonia for flute and piano, for Laura Chislett & Stephanie McCallum.

I am also toying with the idea of a flute, viola, and harp trio to be called slow light, if time allows.

…well, I may have become even more of a hermit, but my social exile might as well be productive. Ovid would have understood.