My need to compose is frequently driven by questions. Why, for example, since 1570, are there so few multi-part vocal pieces? What would it mean to write one today? As a resident artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, I was able to develop some alternative modern approaches to traditional polyphony, concentrating on methods for improving clarity between parts and creating, huge, spatial textures in a 35 minute piece for one hundred singers, one to a part. I’ve been interested in the opportunities that writing one to a part vocal music can bring for developing some extraordinary sounds in choral pieces. The possibilities for large, monolithic blocks of sound, contrasted against subtle and carefully positioned individual lines are extremely exciting in this format. I’m going to call this type of writing, for want of a better term, macropolyphony. Probably risky, I know, as Ligeti has famously claimed micropolyphony, but this isn’t related to that process. I’m working on methods for how parts might interact and inter-relate across extreme expanses of textural space. If composition could do ‘big-data’, this would be it.
And then, there is the question of how to deal with the legacy of the multi-part works of Tallis and Striggio? That’s quite an agenda to live up to. With this in mind, I set out to find some answers, working on the design of a new large-scale work for 100 singers, one to a part. (Take a listen to Architexture 1 elsewhere in this blog for a small-scale 10-part prototype of the type of soundworld that might be possible).This piece is proving to be an enormous task, requiring some innovative solutions to notation, presentation and organisation of the ensemble. Yet it is emerging, and i’m very excited as to the potential it has.
There’s a nice article here http://www.banffcentre.org/
Thank you to all of the staff, and artists and writers in residence at the Banff Centre, for your wonderful support of this endeavour.