The Other Other Hand
1/05/08 for ensemble
There’s a sequence of eight number numbers (starting 11, 7…) which is used throughout The Other Other Hand, and in other recent works. It’s an arbitrary choice of numbers; there is no good reason for it. But in this world – the world of The Other Other Hand – these numbers are adhered to religiously.
C Hubert H Parry’s 1896 The Evolution of the Art of Music is an entertaining and well-informed romp through the history of Western music up to the time of Wagner. Philosophically, it is strongly informed by the ‘social Darwinism’ of Herbert Spencer, and as such it contains many nowadays uncomfortable comments on, for example, the racial characteristics of the various European nations.
What is particularly worrying is the fact that the central narrative which he proposes – of an ‘evolution’ from ‘a kind of vague wail or howl’ produced by ‘savages’ to the music of ‘special races’ who have ‘arrived at an advanced state of intellectuality’ – is still in essence what is believed and taught about classical music today.
As well as the numbers, there is a family of chord sequences which occurs throughout this and other related works. In its basic form, it consits of five note quartal chord, each note of which is raised a semitone in turn, starting from the lowest. It turns out that this process generates a simple and elegant progression through a sequence of pentatonic regions ascending flatwards by fourths, returning after sixty turns of the wheel to the same chord an octave higher, whilst also rotating through a collection of five inversions of a pentatonic chord containing no seconds.
In The Other Other Hand, these progressions always appear in an ascending form. As a matter of, fact they work in an exactly equivalent way in a downward direction; as in the 2002 work smir, where they represent the sound of ‘punctured bagpipes slowly deflating’. So, it doesn’t really matter whether these progressions move up or down. Moreover, it really doesn’t matter where the progression starts or ends.
Performers in a space
Look at it this way; the peformers are not there to play the composer’s music. The composer comes up with music for the performers to play with.
An extended work, composed, written and directed by J. Simon van der Walt in collaboration with six performers Tim Cooper (euphonium), Paddy Johnson (cello), George Kastanos (alto sax), Fraser Antony Max Langton (clarinet), Kay Stephen (violin) and Richard Waghorn (piano) with the assistance of Lauren MacKay (stage manager, maker) and Calum Willoughby (technician).
Performed at the RSAMD 1-2 May 2008 as part of the Plug festival of new music, and again 7-9 August 2008 at Stevenson College as part of the Edinburgh Festival; a central outcome of my PhD research.