Work on Shadow on the Sun has me doing a lot more timbral morphing than is my custom.  I tend to gravitate towards monochromatic ensembles, or ensembles that have a narrow timbral range—which is one of the reasons I love writing for string quartet so much — so I can focus the ear on other aspects of musical discourse.  But the aural image I was going for – a corona that is hotter than the surface from which it emanates – called for a more coloristic approach.

The wind ensemble offers a wonderful pallette for kinds of sounds I was seeking.  Because all the instruments (save percussion and harp) are dependent on the human breath, I could easily glide through disparate sound worlds within a shared sonic envelope.  I’ve found that the pieces I’ve written that make use of a wide timbral range benefit from having other musical parameters considerably narrowed, so the connection to breathing was important to me.

I also narrowed the harmonic pallette considerably.  Entire passages consist of nothing more than permutations of a single chord.  For example, I have a passage of sustained saxophones with burbling oboes and bassoons that gradually morphs into muted trumpets and flutes.  The shift in timbre is simultaneous with a shift in harmony, but the first harmony is a c minor-major 43, while the second harmony is an eb minor-major 65.  The next timbral shift takes us to a g minor-major 42.

In other words, the quality of the chord remains constant throughout, with different roots, inversions and spacings.  That harmonic consistency allows me to range through a variety of colors without falling into randomness.

More on this in another post.

One Response to “Morphing Timbres”
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