Parataxis (2017) — Robert Scott Thompson — Avant-garde Classical
…for chamber ensemble — alto flute, clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, viola, ‘cello
Commissioned by Ensemble MD7
In Japanese poetry literary images are often starkly juxtaposed. This is particularly apparent in the haiku of Bashō, for example. In fact, in this type of work this is the most common poetic device used. The same rhetorical technique is also used in the work of Samuel Beckett, E.E. Cummings, William S. Burroughs and R.D. Laing, to name but a few. Akin to the artistic practices of brassage, often employed in musical contexts and cut-up technique as innovated by Burroughs, the arrangement of often starkly dissimilar phrases or literary fragments side-by-side is called parataxis.
This concept informed my work commissioned by Ensemble MD7 (Slovenia) in 2016. At the heart of the composition lies the by now familiar technique of spectral composition; and for this work I analyzed a computer-processed bell timbre for the pitch material and this single reservoir of tonality is used throughout the work. However, the musical form and temporal juxtaposition of materials was inspired by the literary technique of parataxis. Using this notion as a guiding principle I developed the temporal design of the work on both the micro and macro time-scales.
The composition Parataxis is organized into three main gestural fields. The first is characterized by fleeting collages of rapid sound events bounded by measured silences. The central section of the work, more continuous in sound, is a kind of “elegy” and involves the juxtaposition of elaborate piano arpeggios with a central alto flute line reminiscent in some ways of the monody of the Japanese shakuhachi. A liquidic and shimmering passage for piano provides the foundation for the third main section which involves significant interplay between the strings and the other instruments of the ensemble. These main sections are connected with short linking passages and the composition concludes with a coda of largely chordal sonorities that also refers back to ideas from the opening of the work.
Premiered during the Trieste Prima Festival (2018) in Trieste, Italy. This is a live recording.