"Placid Hosts" for Bass Clarinet/Actor/Interrogator. Bil Smith Composer.
Commissioned by WPP Group, Eli Lilly and Verizon.
Performer TBD by Lottery. (7 Nominees)
This work focuses on unmasking how notational nomenclature is marshaled into the service of power, from political rhetoric and demagogy to psychological persuasion.
The Bass Clarinetist is responsible for a multiplicity of roles in this performance.
"Placid Hosts" is accompanied by a four-channel video installation based on an interview transcript from a 2014 murder investigation in the United States in which a woman was suspected of killing her husband with a Christian Louboutin stiletto heel DegraSpike Patent Red Sole Pump.
Similar to the way an interrogation room generates a power dynamic and tension from the moment a person steps inside, the layout of the installation is designed to maximize viewers’ discomfort.
Upon entering the piece, listeners hear a harsh and incessant pulsating sound composition, which is synchronized with the interview dialogue projected on two screens in blinding optic white text on vermillion backgrounds.
One screen features the police officers’ vexatious questions, the other the answers of the suspect. The authorities use interrogation tactics such as psychological manipulation, confrontation, and even empathy in order to gain trust and obtain a confession, hence the Bass Clarinetist is incarcerated, reformed or a fugitive.
Throughout, the accused person’s responses read as overwhelmed, as if they are unable or perhaps unwilling to remember or articulate their thoughts. Delays in replying translate into bursts of cadmium yellow, channel black, or optic white flashes on the screens, accompanied by the no less irritating buzzing of the processed live performance of the bass clarinetist.
The persuasiveness of this work relies on the listener's exposure to constant noise and flashes of light—which are not coincidentally methods also used for “enhanced interrogation”—leaving one with a strong sense of stress, suggestibility, and vulnerability.
This is a visceral experience of the exercise of compositional language as a coercive power, as if one’s self were the very same subject of inquisition.
Periphrasis... a circumlocution, a roundabout expression that avoids naming something by its most direct term. Since it is constituted through a culturally perceived relationship to a word or phrase that it is not, periphrasis has no distinctive form of its own but articulates itself variously through other figures
"The Illusion of Control" for bass flute inspired by Leonora Carrington is a product of my compositional bounding theory and augmented notational archetypes. It is an exploration of the multidimensional sound-world of the bass flute, a defined space within which I can move rationally. Through this work, I aim to create a sonic landscape that is both distinctive and transformative, building upon the rich legacy of physical perceptions and cultural traditions that have shaped the bass flute over time.
Leonora Carrington is a writer whose imaginative worlds have inspired generations of creative thinkers. Her unique vision of the world, infused with a sense of mystery and wonder, serves as a powerful backdrop for my exploration of the bass flute's sonic potential.
At the core of my compositional approach is an emphasis on listening to the particularity and differences of the instrument. I seek out possible points of contact and connections between dimensions that retain their autonomy, exploring the boundaries of my own models of representation to discover new facets of sound. This process requires a level of vigilance and sensitivity, as every detail can constitute an illuminating difference or remarkable connection.
This piece is not simply a representation of the bass flute's sound-world, but a transformation of it. Through the performer's concrete actions, the practice and intelligence of the sound are inscribed upon the body and the space in the ritual and impersonal dimension of the common listening. Sound, body, listening, space, and community cannot be separated, and each element plays a critical role in shaping the final sonic landscape.
The bass flute, with its unusual distribution of sound sources and audience, offers a unique opportunity to create a complex, visionary multiphony. The dishomogeneity and dispersive potential of the instrument's attack become the power center for articulated relationships, creating forms and degrees of resonances that are apparent in their peculiarities. The resulting sound fills the entire space, stimulating a constantly unbalanced, asymmetrical mode of listening.
In creating this work, I rely heavily on augmented notational archetypes. These archetypes allow me to explore the full range of sonic possibilities offered by the bass flute, pushing the boundaries of traditional notation to create new forms of representation. By augmenting traditional notation with a range of graphical and symbolic elements, I am able to capture the unique characteristics of the bass flute's sound and translate them into a visual language that speaks to the imagination and the intellect.
At the same time, my work is grounded in a compositional bounding theory that emphasizes the importance of defined spaces and boundaries. By working within the constraints of these boundaries, I am able to create a sense of structure and coherence that allows the work to unfold in a meaningful way. The boundaries serve as a guide, allowing me to explore the full potential of the bass flute while still maintaining a sense of discipline and control.
As the sphere of music composition continues to evolve, we find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts, with emerging technologies and approaches vying for our attention and allegiance. One such approach that has recently captured the imagination of composers and theorists alike is that of hyper-complex visualized scores. These scores, which combine intricate musical notation with highly abstract visual elements, offer a new way of understanding and engaging with musical composition, one that draws heavily on the work of thinkers such as Wilhelm Reich and Roland Barthes.
At its core, these radical scores represent a departure from traditional methods of musical notation. Rather than relying solely on written symbols and conventions, these scores incorporate a wide range of graphic elements, from abstract shapes and patterns to representational imagery and text. The result is a kind of synesthetic experience, where the visual and auditory elements of the music are intertwined in a complex and dynamic relationship.
But what are the implications of this new approach to music composition? For one thing, it raises questions about the role of notation in the creative process. Traditionally, musical notation has been seen as a kind of neutral medium, a way of encoding musical ideas in a way that can be easily shared and communicated. But with hyper-complex visualized scores, the notation becomes an integral part of the creative act, shaping the music itself in profound ways.
This shift in emphasis also has implications for the way we think about musical interpretation. In a traditional score, the written notation provides a kind of roadmap for performers, guiding them through the various elements of the music and helping them to bring it to life. But with hyper-complex visualized scores, the relationship between notation and performance becomes much more complex. Rather than simply following the written instructions, performers must engage with the visual elements of the score, interpreting them in a way that is both creative and responsive to the musical ideas being presented.
This brings us to the work of Wilhelm Reich, who saw the human body as a kind of musical instrument, capable of expressing and responding to the subtle nuances of sound and vibration. For Reich, music was a way of accessing the deep emotional and psychological energies that underlie our experience of the world. In a sense, hyper-complex visualized scores represent an extension of Reich's vision, offering a new way of accessing and expressing these energies through the medium of musical notation.
At the same time, hyper-complex visualized scores also draw heavily on the work of Roland Barthes, who famously wrote about the "death of the author" and the ways in which the meaning of a text is constructed by the reader, rather than by the author. This idea of the text as a kind of open, generative space is key to understanding the possibilities of hyper-complex visualized scoring. By creating scores that are at once highly structured and highly abstract, composers are opening up a space for interpretation and engagement that is far more expansive than traditional methods of notation.
But what are the challenges of working with hyper-complex visualized scores? For one thing, they require a high degree of technical skill and visual literacy on the part of both composer and performer. Unlike traditional scores, which can be read and understood by musicians with a relatively limited set of skills, hyper-complex visualized scores require a deep engagement with the visual elements of the music, as well as a willingness to experiment and take risks in the performance of the music.
At its core, hyper-complex visualized scoring can be understood as a fundamentally liberatory practice, one that seeks to subvert the hierarchical power structures that have long governed the creation and reception of musical works. In Reich's theory of orgonomy, for example, the human body is understood to be the primary locus of creative energy, with the production of musical works seen as a manifestation of this innate biological process. By extension, the role of the composer is not to impose their will upon the material, but rather to act as a facilitator, channeling the energy of the body into a coherent sonic form.
Similarly, Barthes' semiotic theory posits that meaning is not fixed or stable, but rather arises out of the complex interplay between signifiers and signifieds. In this sense, musical scores can be seen as a kind of language, with each note or symbol carrying its own unique set of associations and connotations. By embracing the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of the musical language, hyper-complex visualized scores have the potential to create new forms of meaning that challenge conventional modes of interpretation and understanding.
Of course, the use of hyper-complex visualized scores also raises a number of significant challenges and questions. One of the primary concerns is the potential for these scores to become overly insular and elitist, catering only to a select group of highly trained musicians and scholars. This danger is particularly acute given the highly specialized vocabulary and notation systems that often accompany hyper-complex scoring, which can make it difficult for newcomers to access and engage with the works.
Another potential issue is the risk of over-reliance on technology, with composers and performers becoming too reliant on digital tools and software to generate and interpret the scores. This not only raises questions about the authenticity and originality of the works themselves, but also runs the risk of further entrenching existing power structures within the music industry, particularly with regard to the distribution and consumption of musical works.
Ultimately, however, the potential benefits of these scores far outweigh these challenges, particularly in terms of the ways in which it can disrupt traditional notions of musical authorship and interpretation. By foregrounding the role of the body, and by embracing the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of the musical language, hyper-complex visualized scores offer a radical alternative to the hierarchical power structures that have long dominated the music industry. In so doing, they provide a powerful tool for artists and audiences alike to explore the myriad possibilities of musical creation, and to imagine new futures for the art form as a whole.
In my new composition commissioned by Softbank, "The Hermeneutics of Suspicion in the Time-Traveling Cowboy's Adventures" for Cello delivers a complex notational vocabulary incorporating extreme extended techniques in which the cellist encounters rhythmic indentations and protrusions; a delicate topography of peaks and valleys in the score.
The composition is focused on the concept of a new space… on the grounds that it was too closely bound up with subjective gesture, but much more flexible about the notational intervals at which they appeared of which arranged diagonal vectors form corridors of open space which alternately narrow and widen across the score.
In a way, the composition attacks the supports and surfaces, the very structure of what this score is, and in that way we feel these sounds as if were feeling these textures in our own body.’ The cellists' compositional expression and the idea of how to frame that expression become inseparable; or, to borrow an idea from the theater, the proscenium is designed together with the action onstage. This work represents a very physical form of creative destruction: to go through it and transform it.
One of the themes I explored in this work focused on my interest in the ways in which power operates in society. I envision the cellist arguing that power is not just something that is possessed by individuals or groups, but is rather something that is diffuse and pervasive, operating through a complex web of social relations. The intricacies of the tablature express my belief that knowledge is always produced within a specific historical and cultural context, and that it is therefore always contingent and subject to change.
I am also interested in the ways in which this notation functions as a system of signs that produces meaning. This notation is not just a stylistic choice, but is rather a way of engaging with their ideas about power and knowledge. It is a composition that embodies the radical potential of creative destruction. It is a work that attacks the very foundations of traditional musical notation and reconfigures them into a new kind of space that is both unsettling and exhilarating.
It is a work that demands not just technical virtuosity of the performer, but also a willingness to engage with the political and philosophical implications of its form and the idea of the "destructive character" - a figure who seeks to go beyond the limitations of existing forms and create something new. The use of the cello as the solo instrument creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy that is difficult to reproduce; it creates a sense of disorientation and uncertainty which embodies a sense of skepticism and distrust of established power structures.
"The Paranormal Detective Agency's Guide To Modern Physics" embodies a plethora of complex musical concepts and intricate notational structures. My goal for this work, composed for the viola, is to exude a sense of otherworldly energy and a heightened sense of mystery that is both awe-inspiring and eerie.
The composition employs a highly developed notational palette that incorporates fissures, fragmentation, and semicollapsed geometric transformations, which pivot and rotate. The visual landscape of the score is both complex and multifaceted, with each element interacting in a unique and intricate manner, creating a complex and layered soundscape that is both immersive and mesmerizing.
The score is in the midst of a metamorphosis, caught in the process of becoming something else. The composer's vision is to create a piece that defies conventional music theory and notation, incorporating a multitude of unique concepts and techniques that push the boundaries notation.
As a composer, I define myself as someone in total opposition. I believe that resistance is autonomy, and that it is the raison d'etre for my existence as a composer. It is fundamental to my work and is the driving force behind my compositional endeavors.
The use of fissures and fragmentation in the score creates a sense of fragmentation and disorientation, with the performer jumping from one section of the score to another, creating a sense of chaos and disorder. The semicollapsed geometric transformations add another layer of complexity, with the notes and symbols appearing to pivot and rotate around each other in a dizzying display.
Despite its complexity, the piece is incredibly engaging and captivating, albeit it is also an extreme extension of systemization and depersonalization incorporating a range of techniques and elements that create a sense of dematerialization, a seductive effacing of architectural boundaries, and of the surfaces rendered so emphatically present that defines the viola in an abstract, extreme persona.
The discreet allusiveness gives way to the linear evocations of perspectival recession, generating the feeling of an empty space mirroring itself to infinity.
In contemporary music composition, the proliferation of hyper-complex notational ontologies has challenged traditional notions of musical score and performance. Inspired by the works of Brian Ferneyhough, Adorno, and Wilhelm Reich, composers are experimenting with unconventional approaches to notation, often violating the score in ways that parallel the works of visual artists such as Albert Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Enrico Castellani.
Central to this discussion is the idea that notation is not merely a means of representing musical ideas but can itself be a generative force. Ferneyhough's music is characterized by a hyper-complexity of notation, which often involves a proliferation of symbols, unconventional time signatures, and microtonal inflections. The result is music that is both intricate and visceral, requiring a virtuosic performance technique that often pushes the boundaries of what is possible on an instrument.
Similarly, Adorno's writings on music and aesthetics have emphasized the importance of complexity and dissonance in the creation of new sonic experiences. For Adorno, the dissonance of music reflects the discordance of modern life, and the complexity of music is a response to the overwhelming complexity of contemporary society. Through his work, Adorno sought to challenge traditional notions of harmony and tonality, opening up new avenues for experimentation and creativity.
Wilhelm Reich's theories of Orgone energy have also had an impact on contemporary music composition, particularly in the development of sonorescence, a technique that involves introducing heat to an instrument to create new sounds. Reich's ideas about the connection between energy and the body have led some composers to explore the physicality of sound and the ways in which it can be manipulated.
Adorno's critique of the "culture industry" and its homogenizing effects on art can be seen as a direct challenge to traditional modes of musical expression. Similarly, Reich's concept of "muscular armor" and his interest in the role of the body in musical performance can be seen as a direct challenge to traditional Western notions of virtuosity and performance.
One consequence of the proliferation of hyper-complex notational ontologies is the potential for the violation of the score in ways that parallel the works of visual artists such as Burri, Fontana, and Castellani. Burri's use of combustion in his work, Fontana's piercing of his canvases, and Castellani's patterning of perforations are all examples of artists using physical interventions to create new visual experiences. Similarly, composers are exploring ways in which the score can be violated, opening up new possibilities for sonic experimentation.
One example of this is the use of extreme extended techniques, which often re-invent the timbral characteristics and sonorities of an instrument. These techniques can involve the use of unconventional playing techniques, such as scraping or bowing the instrument in unusual ways, or the introduction of electronic effects and processing. The result is music that is often harsh and dissonant, challenging traditional notions of harmony and tonality.
Another example is the use of sonorescence, which involves the introduction of heat to an instrument to create new sounds. This technique has been used by composers such as Tristan Murail, who has explored the physicality of sound through the use of heat, and Fausto Romitelli, who has used sonorescence to create new sonic textures and colors.
These ontologies, which allow for a violation of the score much in the way that artists like Albert Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Enrico Castellani have used combustion, piercing, and perforation to create unconventional artworks, are redefining the sonic landscape and expanding the possibilities of musical expression.
My approach to creating unconventional and at times confrontational music scores is also relevant in this context. My works often incorporate unconventional notations and extended techniques, and are known for a confrontational style and a willingness to challenge the traditional boundaries of musical expression. My compositions, like those of Ferneyhough and others who use hyper-complex notational ontologies, are often seen as challenging the dominant modes of musical expression.