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A trace of infinity (amplified ensemble and tape, 1991)


Commissioned by the Australian Ensemble Elision with funds made available by the ACGB; appears on the CD Driftglass (1M1CD 1018)

In writing for a combination of instruments and electroacoustic tape there are always questions of function and balance to consider. If the tape is not to be merely a backwash or accompaniment, does it take on an instrumental role? If it is not to be limited to instrumental voicings but is to make use of a wider pallette of sound transformations and non-instrumental gestures, how then are the instruments to match this rich pallette and not sound bound by themselves.

The instrumental material, then, for A trace of infinity was conceived in the same way as the source material for the tape, that is in terms of abstract sound where timbre, dynamics and other energy profiles are as important, or perhaps more important that pitch structures. In other words, whilst pitch/melodic material is organised and controlled in the piece, the form of the piece, the way it moves towards goals, the senses of tension and relaxation, energy and calm, the points of departure and arrival, in fact all of the things which make musical sense, are not to be found by listening to pitch/melody alone. Further, individual instrumental parts are often very fragmentary. It is only in their combination and juxtaposition with eachother and the tape that the music makes sense. In this way, the instruments gain some of the expressive power of the tape medium

The piece explores cycles and mappings in various ways - pitch fields are used extensively to achieve a sense of unity in that domain, and that consistency allows musical articulation to be concentrated in areas such as attack and decay characteristics, density and colour. This makes it much easier for the listener to concentrate on the minute details of sound which are involved in each complex object, and again allows the ensemble to approach the way in which the tape works.

In its large scale construction the piece is very simple. It contains a mirror, most obvious in the return, in the final three minutes to tape material similar to the opening, though the instrumental material has been redistributed, making it rather less linear.

The piece is concerned with line and not-line. The opening guitar material seems at first linear, though it becomes apparent that it is in fact part of a point texture whose points sometimes converge into rhythmic/gestural objects (mostly through dynamic profiling). The fragmentation is confirmed by interruptive material consisting of multi-layered (single) objects which take over the instrumental layer and articulate an increasingly intense tape part. We then reach a "pool" of intensity where line becomes important again. Violin, viola and cello have a hetreophonous line which again eventually disintegrates into more disparate gestures, and eventually, debris.

A short tape solo begins to articulate the debris material more positively and when the instruments return, the relationship between tape and ensemble is at its clearest with gestures interlocking. Line is formed from this clear interdependent sequence, and gestures more clearly than before trigger, anticipate and succeed eachother.

The tape part was realised in the Electro-Acoustic Music Studios at the University of Birmingham. A trace of infinity was completed in January 1991 and was made possible by funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.