Workshop with the Ligeti Quartet

It was so much fun to meet the Ligeti Quartet and 7 other composers who've been chosen to write them a new piece. We did the first workshop of the pieces last week as part of the inaugural conference at The Centre for New Music at Sheffield

The inspiration for my piece, ‘Fragment’ comes from the shamanic idea of “soul loss” - the belief that a part of the soul flees the body in order to survive difficult life events, like a lizard losing its tail as it escapes from a predator. As a mediator between life on Earth and the spirit realm, an important part of a shaman’s role is to help members of the community retrieve these lost soul fragments by reaching into other worlds during rituals.

The premise of the piece is to explore how a single, central entity can be fragmented into several parts that are at once dependent on, and independent of, one another. It begins with dark, ominous surges across the quartet before suddenly breaking off into sequences and ‘cells’ of repeated fragments that overlap and build on each other to create constantly shifting textures. 

While each player has different material, and plays their own part independently of everyone else, they have to listen very carefully to each other for key musical cues that tell them when to move on to the next cell. The challenge was working out how much independence I could give the players to give the piece an aleatoric dimension, while ensuring that it would always have a sense of structure and make musical sense. This balancing act took a long time to work out and notate and a lot of time in the workshop was spent discussing the best ways to notate a piece like this, where the building blocks are all mapped out but cues from the players determine how to navigate them.

I now need to spend more time developing the idea and approach to notating it, paying close attention to the "controlled aleatorism" of Lutoslawski’s Quartet, about which the composer commented, "It employs the element of chance for the purpose of rhythmic and expressive enrichment of the music without limiting in the least the full ability of the composer to determine the definitive form of the work."