Papers [Composition No. 43]

Papers (1998) was written specifically for London Skyscraper, and was given its first performance by them in London on 4th October 1998. Following London Skyscraper's experience working with Butch Morris in 1997 (and previous experiments of my own with larger ensembles), I devised this piece in order to explore a different way of structuring an improvisation without hampering the performers' spontaneous explorations. A simple structure was designed which moves the piece through a landscape of low drones, staccato and sustained high tones, rapid movement and soloistic improvisation. (Many players are instructed to spend much of the time listening.) This structure remains the same for each performance, but each performance is unique since the allocation of these elements to particular instruments is determined by completely random means; the piece can be performed by 12–50 improvisers, and the appropriate number of instruction cards are shuffled and dealt to whoever is taking part. Since each musician will then improvise with their material in a unique way, it can easily be seen that there will be tremendous variations between different realisations. However, the mathematical structuring of the material distributed among the various cards ensures that the overall architecture is always identifiable.I was particularly keen that this piece should encourage the musicians to retain responsibility for the music produced, despite my structuring. Thus, once the cards are dealt I have no control over any musician's contribution to the proceedings; each player must take responsibility for their own actions. Movement between sections is indicated by a series of cue cards, but these cards are permanently displayed and musicians react only when they see the card has changed. In this piece there is no insistence on stiflingly immediate responses!I hope this will prove to be the first of several pieces which will explore this new, less aggressive method of structuring improvisation.

(The instruction cards themselves are also things of beauty! Each one is printed on a different example of hand made papers and cards from the 13th century Moulin de Larroque at Couze, near Cahors.)

© Simon H. Fell 1998

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