Discretions for Ensemble

This new work of mine had its premiere performance at the Tilde New Music Festival on 23 January, 2016. It was a really interesting experience for me, to watch it unfold as a non-performer.

This clip is from the finale of the piece. I like this video, and I think it stands up pretty well on its own, but in many ways it was the product of the previous 55 minutes.

Discretions For Ensemble is essentially a structure for multiple, short improvisations. The improvisations are scheduled for specific times that performers are alerted to by silent alarms on their smart phones. Performers know when their own alarms will go off, but they don’t know when other performers will be alerted. The audience knows neither. I see the performers and temporality itself as my key compositional materials in this work.

The thing that became evident almost from the start of the performance was a feeling of tension amongst both performers and audience members as they awaited something to “happen”. One audience member related to me later that the tension during the first ten minutes was “almost unbearable”. My immediate reaction was to consider ways to alleviate this tension in future performances, but on further consideration I felt that this tension, and these moments when apparently nothing was happening except for this massive tension, were really interesting. Everything took on a significance; if someone moved or made an incidental sound, everyone wondered was that a “performance”? At one point a piano on stage was moved in preparation for the next performance, and everyone turned quickly to look.

I’m hoping that other opportunities will arise to perform the piece; it will be interesting to try a different approach to scheduling and location, to see if this influences outcomes.

My sincere thanks to Tilde New Music Festival for providing a forum for this work, and to the wonderful artists who brought the piece to life: Shani-Mohini Holmes, Tully Sumner, Barnaby Oliver, Chun-liang Liu, Carmen Chan, Sam McAuliffe, Melanie Walters, Rhys Butler, Jennifer Callaway, Stephen Roach and David Seedsman.

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