Faint Clicks

27/11/95 (rev 5/2/05) for 4 soprano saxophones (or four oboes)

Composer’s note

We were moving into a new house; this was when I was a kid, living in South Africa. I was left alone in the house for a while, while my parents went back to the old place for more stuff. As I wandered around the huge empty living room, I became aware of a strange… clicking sound? When my parents got back, my dad tore off the skirting board to reveal… termites! They had eaten away almost all of the wood, leaving only a paper-thin shell; from the outside, there was nothing to be seen. This picture stays with me, an image of how our minds worked, us apartheid-era white kids; oppressive racism just under the surface, invisible, never to be discussed.

‘Faint Clicks’ dates from 1995. It is one of the first pieces I made with the aid of a commercial midi sequencer, proving to my own satisfaction that this was a valid tool for contemporary composition. Most of the music is derived in a formal but non-rigorous way from a single 17-bar phrase; the software made it very simple to generate the various canons, retrogrades, inversions and transpositions which make up the piece.

Some creepy-crawly music, then; you might even catch the occasional key-click as the players negotiate some of the more tortuous passages…


As of 5/2/2005 the piece is at version 2; improved notation, some minor errors corrected, programme note amended, but essentially the same music. Originally version (27/11/95) also had a slightly longer title and was officially for four oboes, optionally saxes; now it’s the other way round, for some obscure reason.

I believe this piece may in fact have been performed by some students in Birmingham circa 1996; certainly they rehearsed it. In the absence of any definite information to the contrary, however, the official first performance will be that by Sax-Écosse, which is due to take place on 4 May 2005 as part of the Academy Now! festival at the RSAMD.

Duration ~4’33