Flying Machines for Chamber Ensemble
Flying Machines was written for the ensemble El Perro Andaluz. The name evokes humankind's fascination with the concept of flight, especially during early years of the development of powered flight. Movement I, "Ezekiel's Airship," is a fictional portrayal of the flight of the Ezekiel Airship, a rather unusual craft constructed of a canvas canopy and four wheels with propellers built into them; a very loose adaptation of the prophet Ezekiel's vision of "wheels within wheels" in Ezekiel 1:1-28. It probably did not actually fly--at least not very far--but in this piece I imagine a much more elaborate system of engines, gears and propellers spinning at different rates and angles to take the machine on a tumultuous, aerial ride. The movement is constructed around two main concepts: metric dissonance at the ratios of 3:2, 4:3, and 5:4, often at different displacements, and interval cycles. Metric modulations are one of the primary vessels by which metric dissonance is taken beyond the surface level, allowing different pulse streams to move between foreground and background, often serving as structural benchmarks throughout the movement. For example, the first structurally significant metric modulation occurs at reh. B. The 4:3 pulse takes over as the notated meter (3/4 becomes 4/4; dotted eighth note becomes quarter note) and brings an initial onslaught of contrasting pulses as instrument groups careen on accelerating and decelerating trajectories into their extreme ranges. Intervallic cycles can be found throughout the movement, such as the winding but essentially chromatic line that emerges in the rising strings at reh. B and makes several other appearances throughout the movement. The most significant pattern, however, is a continuous cycle of rising major and minor thirds introduced by the cello and bass clarinet in m. 69. The cycle repeats every eight notes with each repetition beginning on the next note in the series, so that the interval pattern is replicated every eight notes. The cycle accelerates until the slower level takes over at reh. D, but soon settles at a fixed tempo, drawing attention to various patterns within the series: ascending 5ths of varying quality every other note (glockenspiel, m. 85), and descending thirds at a 4:3 ratio (piano, m. 89), which eventually takes over as the prevailing beat division. Other more complex patterns (violins, mm. 96 and 107) and melodies (oboe and viola, m. 104) are drawn from the cycle as well. The intensity builds to climax at reh. H, where the thirds cycle is temporarily abandoned and a new section begins to develop with a more constant pulse and clearer phrase structure. Three sections of three phrases each follow, culminating with a vaguely salsa-like section at reh. J. Further metric modulations build momentum. The thirds cycles appears again in the rising bass line at reh. M, but it is overtaken by a rapid descent and crash landing. In the second movement, "Cloud Construction," musical materials are ascribed to different types of clouds, moving independently of one another and undergoing subtle transformations. As the movement unfolds, an underlying pitch structure is gradually revealed, upon which much of the movement is based. The collection is symmetrical and has a clearly perceptible fundamental because of its congruence with the overtone series. Additionally, the strings play a recurring sequence of consecutive 5ths descending by thirds--a source of contrasting pitch material based on mode 3 of Messiaen's Modes of Limited Transposition (reh. A). The full sonority of the symmetrical collection is always obscured. The first few times it appears with several pitches missing including the fundamental. Other times when the fundamental is present (such as Piano C2 in m. 41), the upper notes are displaced in time or pitch, as occurs at reh. D where the minor third is emphasized. Each following simultanaeity is progressively darker and more ominous, reaching a dissonant and booming climax in m. 66 before giving way to the piano's colorful elaboration of the fifths-descending theme. The movement is rounded out with one more appearance of the symmetrical collection and the piano's theme, which rises until it fades away. Movement III, "Oiseaux Mécaniques," is named after small, rubber-band-powered ornithopters constructed in the late 19th century by a French inventor named Pichancourt. The movement is in perpetual motion, with the sixteenth note serving as the rhythmic "atom," the unit of which all other durations are a multiple (rather than a division of a larger pulse), much as in Ligeti's later music. The irregularly-metered opening is based on the inverting back and forth of 3-note motives which are occasionally expanded into ascending, cyclical lines. Everything moves upward until the piccolo solo at reh. D, which descends into the the second major section (reh. E), where the strings overlap motives of rising fifths and sixths. The next major section begins reh. H, as intensity drops, a chordal progression begins, and several motives are tossed among string crescendi and a constant marimba pulse. From m. 127 reh. J, the 5ths/6ths motive of reh. E is combined with a return of the initial ascent from the first movement to reach the largest climax yet. At this point a surprise comes as the constant sixteenth note pulse is replaced by sextuplets, adding an additional, unexpected layer of rhythmic activity. The chord progression begun at reh. H continues, now massively filled out, until the third movement's original motive is recapitulated in m. 176 and surges upward to the end.
October 31, 2012.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Clifton Callender, Professor Directing Dissertation; Michael Bakan, University Representative; Ladislav Kubik, Committee Member; Mark Wingate, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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