"Stellum" for Oboe. The score. A Commission from BAE Systems
"Stellum" for Oboe.
Analysis and Commentary by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Upon perusal of the score, one is immediately confronted with a paradoxical directive. The oboist is thrust into a world where the conventional techniques and structures of music are abandoned in favor of uncharted sonic territories. This is a realm inhabited by what are colloquially known as "twentieth-century techniques," a lexicon of sounds that defy tradition and convention.
These techniques encompass a myriad of unorthodox methods for coaxing sounds from the oboe's wooden form. Alternate fingerings dance alongside harmonics, multiphonics harmonize with double trills, and trills with microintervals beckon the performer to tread perilously close to the edge of musical convention. Among these techniques is a peculiar effect known as "over-blowing," a technique shrouded in mystery, entailing alternate fingerings and heightened air pressure. But here's the Kafkaesque twist—Smith, the composer, refuses to provide explicit instructions for these avant-garde effects within the score.
Much like Kafka's protagonists who find themselves navigating bureaucratic mazes, Smith thrusts the performer into a realm of ambiguity and uncertainty. The oboist is left to navigate the score's labyrinthine passages without a map, guided only by intuition and collaboration. This act of collaboration is itself a Kafkaesque metaphor—a reflection of the interconnectedness and shared responsibility inherent in the creative process.
Yet, "Stellum" for Oboe is more than just a collection of avant-garde techniques; it's a manifestation of the Freudian subconscious through sound. Smith's score transcends mere notation; it plunges into the depths of the oboe's voice, merging content and form into a hypnotic continuum. The oboist's breath becomes a medium for prosaic utterances that lull the listener into a state of eerie clarity, only to thrust them into the surreal landscapes of the mind through free-form associative patterns.
As the oboist embarks on this auditory odyssey, the score blurs into uncannily vivid scenarios. It's as though the performer's very eyes are fed with imagery—a Freudian-style shopping list of the subconscious. The oboist's breath becomes a vessel for the surreal, a conduit for the uncanny, and a portal into the depths of human cognition.