Compilation III [Composition No. 30]

Compilation III is the most notation-intensive piece I have ever created, although hopefully that will not be immediately obvious from listening to the music on this recording. If you would like to know a little more about the compositional structure, please read on. If you’d rather not know, then just put the record on!

As a piece based almost entirely on the principles of total serialisation, Compilation III has an unnecessarily complex, ornate and mathematical basis to every aspect of its existence. The notes below don’t even scratch the surface of what’s going on in the 136-page score......

Part 1 opens with a 6-chord fanfare. In one sense this is the whole piece, since every note of written music which follows is a horizontal presentation of vertical pitch information contained in these chords, each of which (in true serial tradition) contains all twelve notes of the tempered western scale. These chords lead into initially two, subsequently three and momentarily four superimposed improvisations, punctuated by the gradual expansion of the written material contained in the six chords. After this first group of improvisations, there follows what at first appears to be an abstract passage played by strings, woodwind, dulcichord and vibes; it is, however, an abstract from the subsequent swing passage and uses the same material as the counterpoint of vibes, oboe and bassoon which accompanies the first real big band section. This makes its appearance about 8 minutes into this first part, playing what is probably the main theme of the work, a 12-tone ordering of the notes from the opening chord. All the harmonies throughout this section are strictly derived from classical serial principles The rhythm section is myself and Mark Sanders. Then follows a semi-improvised quartet, so-described because I suggested in advance that it should stem from and elaborate the semiquaver figures which preceded it. Part 1 concludes with a most bizarre episode; Webern’s Variations Op 30 re-scored for big band and strings, with Webern’s original tone row replaced by the one derived from the first chord which has created all the music of this piece. The rhythm section here is myself and Paul Hession.

Part 2 opens with a composition for prepared piano, percussion and harp combined with a duo improvisation from Nikki Dyer and Thanea Stevens. The written passages explore serialised rhythms derived from the tone row of the opening chords. This then flows into a trio of John Butcher, Mark Sanders and myself, before Rhodri Davies plays a notated harp coda.

Part 3 is a Blues, but it’s a Blues which combines the direct influence of three of my favourite composers; Charles Mingus, John Cage and Charles Ives. You’ll hear the influence of Mingus particularly in the rhythm section (myself and Mark Sanders), which during the course of the piece works through a series of permutations of chorus constructions used by Mingus and Dannie Richmond in Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. The singing, shouting and clapping which you might just hear going on in the big band are also part of that homage. The melodies used in this piece are (of course) 12-tone series derived from the fanfare chords, and once again prove how groovy and swinging serialism is! Ives’s influence can most specifically be felt in the collaging of elements of jazz history and direct quotations which are transplanted wholesale into this piece, and Cage’s in the way that all of these elements have been arranged randomly, right through from single bar solo sections to 16 or 24-bar full orchestrations. This notated piece is accompanied throughout by a duo of Mick Beck and Paul Hession. This was created by Mick playing to a recording of the rhythm section track which he was hearing on headphones; Paul then played along with Mick without hearing the tape. Two takes of the result were desynchronised from the main track and given the relationship you hear. As ever, this produced some magical non-predetermined interactions. The piece also features jazz solos by Simon Willescroft (alto sax) and Tom Rees-Roberts (trumpet). The guitar interjections are by Colin Medlock.

Construct 1 combines a short solo harp piece with a string octet improvisation, and a series of notated serial durations for prepared piano and percussion. These durations also form the basis of Part 5 and a section of Part 6.

With the exception of Colin’s guitar solo, all elements of Construct 2 were notated, although recorded xenochronistically. Colin is in fact soloing over the rhythm section from Part 3.

Construct 3 combines de-synchronised performance of written material by strings and woodwind with a trio improvisation by Damien Bowskill, Paul Hession and myself, which itself runs concurrently with a trio improvisation by Orphy Robinson, Mark Sanders and myself. Although recorded separately but initially synchronised, the woodwind and string parts were broken apart and carefully placed within the guitar trio improvisation to give the vague impression of a ‘head’; then I determined the point at which I wanted Orphy’s solo to come out of the guitar trio and synchronised the sections backwards from there. All interaction between the two trios is randomly generated (or perhaps created simply by the act of perceiving it). This is one of several pieces from Compilation III which almost get near to creating a new jazz mutation; in this regard I would also particularly recommend Construct 6.

Part 4 is centred around another re-working of the serialised rhythms already heard in Part 2. These rhythms will also form a key part of Construct 6.

The origin of Interlude is shrouded in the mists of forgetful memory. I think I originally applied my tone-row to the harmony of a Bach chorale; this is actually a very free realisation of the resulting notation.

Part 5 opens with a composition for wind band which subjects a chromatic scale to four variations based on the durations of Construct 1.

Construct 4 accompanies an improvisation by IST with a complex notated harp piece, which includes elements of Part 1, Interlude, Construct 5 and Part 6.

Construct 5 is a work-out for the contras quartet; it incorporates references to material from every other section of the composition.

Construct 6 is a new jazz construction; the rhythm section is Paul Hession and myself, and we xenochronously accompany a theme statement and solos. Nothing here is as it seems; only Paul and I could hear each other, and neither of us could hear anything else. Even Alan Wilkinson’s solo was ‘composed’ from arranged phrases taken from longer solo improvisations and set against the rhythm section. Colin Medlock’s solo was recorded against the rhythm section you have heard on Part 3, not the one he is heard with now. The rhythms being played by Paul & I for the blues which forms the second section of this piece are exactly the same as those played by the wind and strings in the central section of Part 4; indeed this was originally the rhythm section for that track. In the same vein, a further take of wind and strings from Part 4 was introduced at the end of this piece, synchronised to the guitar solo.

Part 6 opens with two new elements derived from the tone row; the reharmonisation of a fugue figure which is one of my oldest surviving compositions is combined with a surreal episode which was primarily motivated by a sudden flush of love for the music of Bernard Herrmann. The fugue then reappears combined with a woodwind improvisation and a prepared piano & percussion composition. This composition is suspended, but soon reappears during the subsequent guitar trio, exploring further subdivisions of the rhythm row heard previously. The following episode of vibes, strings and contras was constructed completely from xenochronous improvisations. Following the big band interlude, Stefan’s solo is accompanied not only by the chords which run throughout this movement, but also by the contras playing Interlude, and the strings playing the rhythmic durations from Construct 1 and Part 5. He is also kept company by simultaneous solos from Rhodri Davies and Paul Hession. After another brief interlude during which the prepared piano and percussion further subdivide the rhythm row, a second take of the semiquaver quartet improvisation of Part 1 leads into the final ensemble flurry. Here all the notated music of the previous 2 hours is heard compressed into some 78 seconds as it is overlapped, superimposed and accelerated. This is succeeded by a similar passage where everyone improvises simultaneously (and noisily) before 3 repeats of the six chords manage to silence even the most persistent of blowers.

© Simon H. Fell 1998

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