Wild Basin Winds | Octet: Twelve Concert Etudes for Polytemporal Ensemble

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Octet: Twelve Concert Etudes for Polytemporal Ensemble

by Wild Basin Winds

Performers of Octet combine up to eight different tempos concurrently to present an example of polytemporal music. The experimental project aims to produce intricate rhythms with relative, not global, tempos for these 12 etudes.
Genre: Classical: New Music Ensemble
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Octet: First Study, These Twenty-Three Buildings
7:42 $0.99
2. Octet: Second Study Version B, Suspension, Grace, Parenting, and Illness
3:57 $0.99
3. Octet: Third Study, Interlude #1
1:08 $0.99
4. Octet: Fourth Study, Brother, Sister, Brother
7:48 $0.99
5. Octet: Fifth Study, Veronica's Harmonicas
5:52 $0.99
6. Octet: Sixth Study, Interlude #2
0:54 $0.99
7. Octet: Sixth Study, Interlude #2. Slowly
1:41 $0.99
8. Octet: Seventh Study, Passed Kind
7:25 $0.99
9. Octet: Eighth Study, Southern Writers (For Rory Who Loves to Read)
6:49 $0.99
10. Octet: Twelfth Study, In Three Acts
1:36 $0.99
11. Octet: Thirteenth Study, Eola, Voca and Vick
5:21 $0.99
12. Octet: Fourteenth Study, Adams Extract 1955
2:38 $0.99
13. Octet: Fifteenth Study, In Nomine Craindre Vous Vueil
6:59 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Composer’s Notes

Performers of Octet combine up to eight different tempos concurrently to present an example of polytemporal music. Live polytemporal performances by acoustic musicians are uncommon, often experimental, and various methods are used to coordinate tempos. The usual objective is to produce intricate rhythms. That intricacy being the attraction, in 1984 I began to write software composition tools, and by 1988 I began to build my own timing system. It became apparent that eight separate tempos were possible using the technology architecture available and affordable then. As I constructed the equipment for the performers, I also began to write this Octet in which all parts are not written against a global tempo; they are written relative to one another. More information about that process can be found on www.theoctetproject.info.

As a set of etudes, Octet is meant to acquaint each performer with the aural polytemporal situation; an individual tempo different from another performer’s individual tempo. As an octet ensemble, they must continuously assemble a unified musical sound from differently moving parts having one of three basic characteristics; different tempos at once, offset downbeats, and those two ideas in combination.

Different tempos at once means one performer can play a part at a tempo of  = 69 beats a minute, and another performer can play a separate part at a tempo of  = 57 beats a minute. This example uses two layers of time synchronizing every twenty seconds. Some etudes of this Octet use up to eight layers, meaning eight tempos happen at once, one unique tempo per performer.

When using Offset downbeats, all performers play at the same tempo, but the ensemble is split apart in time by delaying some downbeats, resulting in those performers starting a fragment of a second later in time than the downbeat of the remaining performers. For example, imagine a person rapidly repeating, “one, three” and another starting later, repeating, “two, four” so that interleaved together, they alternate to say, “one, two, three, four” quickly. This scenario is found in the Fifth Study where the performers trade note pitches instead of speaking numbers.

Octet was introduced to the ensemble, Wild Basin Winds in 2014. Suggestions generated by our five experimental sessions greatly improved the playability of Octet. These collaborators performed the first Octet concert in 2017. To their credit, performer isolation and track layering techniques were not necessary to meet the timing challenges of this Octet studio recording performance. I am supremely grateful for their willingness to try an unconventional performance method and to present this work as a finished product.
Octet tracks

Scores for these etudes can be found by searching for The Octet Project or by using the link, https://polytemporal.info/octet.html

1. First Study - These Twenty-Three Buildings, 1989
Eight tempos are in use throughout various test patterns designed to reveal different levels of performance difficulty. Each pattern is about twenty seconds in duration. Tempos are based upon the prime numbers 5 through 29. The illustration below from the draft score is a graph of those superimposed numbers.

This piece was first read in private in 1992. Going in, I didn’t know if eight performers could each play against a different tempo. I expected some of this piece to be unplayable. To my surprise, all went well.

2. Second Study - Suspension, Grace, Parenting, and Illness, 1991
Each player performs a repetitive rhythm that, when combined with other players, forms a constantly changing pattern. In other words, while an individual part is mostly repetitive, the assembled ensemble (the more complex aggregate rhythm) rarely repeats itself.

Four different downbeat rates at a ratio of 10:11:12:13 converge about every seven seconds on a short staccato note. Grouping is Bassoon and Bass Clarinet (10 count); Oboe, Horn and Cello (11 count); Piano (12 count); Violin and Flute (13 count). The performance challenge presented by this etude is to continuously play and adhere to the written part. If one becomes lost, there are two brief, “empty” or silent places in the piece where the errant performer will be exposed. One is in the middle of the piece. Another is near the end, where only the piano should sound.

3. Third Study - Interlude #1, 1991
Interleaved downbeats allow a performer to quickly play between two others' notes. One tempo is used for everyone, and some downbeats are offset in time by one third or two thirds creating a 3x interleaved downbeat. The following illustration is from the draft score:
This Study is a bit of a game, with accuracy being the goal. When performed perfectly, a steady, rapid stream of pitches is passed within the ensemble, sounding as differently colored alternating points of sound. The pitch order of all twelve notes in the octave is organized through using all possible permutations of a twelve-tone row found using a Babbitt square. This is perhaps the most difficult of these etudes to perform, as it requires precise note placement, duration and volume.

4. Fourth Study - Brother, Sister, Brother, 1992
After the previous three investigative etudes, I thought I would use the polytemporal technique with melodic material. The ensemble divides to form three groups to play three stylistically related songs at once. Over about eight minutes, double reeds play 691 downbeats, strings with piano play 547, and the flute, clarinet, and horn play 797. Since those are prime numbers, the three groups do not have a downbeat together until the last note is played.

5. Fifth Study - Veronica's Harmonicas, 1992
As in the Third Study, two groups play eighth notes at the same tempo, but one group is offset forward in time by 25% of a beat to play between the other group’s notes. Sixteenth notes result. The notes sound twice as fast as they are playing them.

One repeating pitch is used in the first section of the piece. Eventually, harmony is introduced. I wanted to know if “trading notes” was easier to perform if the notes were different pitches. The performers reported that it was.

6. Sixth Study - Interlude #2, 1992
I first heard Conlon Nacarrow’s Studies for Player Piano during the time the previous etude as written. That hearing stylistically influenced this active, short chromatic piece with four tempos differing slightly to perhaps create a spiral effect. The octet is divided into four groups with a downbeat ratio of 52:53:54:55 over about 26 seconds, and this rhythmic foundation repeats once but uses different sounds the second time. Grouping is Piccolo, Horn, Cello (52 count); Violin and Bassoon (53 count); Oboe and Bass Clarinet (54 count); Piano (55 count). This illustration is the downbeat layout of the first few seconds of the piece:

7. Sixth Study - Interlude #2, 1992
A rendition of the interlude is played slowly.

8. Seventh Study - Passed Kind, 2014
The C Major scale is spread across eight different tempos or beats per minute; approximately M.M. 60, 67, 70, 77, 81, 91, 98, and 102. The performers coincide after twenty seconds and begin again with a bit of variation in sound. The idea is to use simple rhythmic and melodic material that, when set to poly-tempos, results in slow, fluid-like polyphony. Soloists are featured, and each melody is at a slightly different tempo than the previous one.

9. Eighth Study - Southern Writers - for Rory who loves to read, 2016
I completed this piece as a typical single-tempo work and later adapted it to a polytemporal framework. Polytemporal rearrangement of a temporally normal work is something I wanted to try. I layered the original score so a player or groups of players occasionally depart from the constant tempo of the piano and later rejoin, sometimes overlapping in the process. For example, the flute enters slightly ahead of the piano at the beginning of the piece, but the flute tempo is slower and eventually meets, and then wraps around the piano line. The number of different but simultaneous tempo layers varies as the piece is performed.

10. Twelfth Study - In Three Acts, 2017
A short introduction is followed by three quick sections or “Acts” separated by applause, leading to repetition of the introduction as the finale. I wanted to see if the performers could quickly change from a unison downbeat to seven simultaneous tempos and then back to the original unison downbeat without relying on preparatory beats at the moment of their collective tempo change.

11. Thirteenth Study - Eola, Voca and Vick, 2017
This etude is an example of combining polytemporal lines and offset lines at the same time. Three different downbeat rates are used, and two of the rates have copies offset by .25, a sixteenth note. Specifically, ratio 11:14:17, is played simultaneously with .25 offsets of 11:17. Strings and horn play melodic material using a common tempo within the more complex ostinato pattern.

12. Fourteenth Study - Adams Extract 1955, 2017
The Adams Extract company buildings and their surrounding property are visible from interstate highway 35 a few miles south of Austin. This complimentary piece challenges the ensembles’ ability to place a few beautifully played tones in a sparse setting. Five simultaneous tempos are in use.

13. Fifteenth Study - In nomine Craindre vous vueil, 2017
Renaissance composers sometimes used greatly elongated notes of a familiar or favorite melody and then surrounded the melody with new musical lines to make an original piece based on the established one. In this case, I use four slightly different tempos to carry sounds over a favorite Guillaume Dufay (15th century) melody played in low piano octaves. The downbeat ratio 11:12:13:14 provides a segmented form to the piece; there is obvious change every few seconds when the tempos coincide. A simple, brief polytemporal canon is also present in the work. Upper voices that differ only slightly in tempo imitate one another and share melodic material, and the lower voices do likewise.

-Robert L. Motl, 2018



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