Pavanne

“Order is repetition of units.
Chaos is multiplicity without rhythm.

M. C. Escher

Pavanne was commissioned by Loré Lixenberg as a piece to lead into Trevor Wishart’s Anticredos from a performance of a polyphonic mass setting. The piece was first played in a dark concert hall on four channels surrounding the audience.

Anticredos, composed in 1980, “gradually deconstructs the word ‘Credos’ by gradual transformations of its sonic constituents”, the word chosen specifically for its wide range of sonic constituents. Pavanne does not deconstruct anything but instead destroys a song sung by Loré Lixenberg, replacing it gradually with dirty noise created using a telephone wired into a resonator built in Reaktor and a VST plugin called Glitch. The vocals are distorted as the glitchy sounds take over until finally the single voice is heard reverberating at the ending.

The two vocal recordings used for the base of this piece were provided by Loré Lixenberg but the source music is unknown to the composer. The two recordings were blended together using the Reaktor patch Grainstates to create an ambient wash over which the development takes place. As the piece starts the vocal lines are presented and then removed behind a layer of processing in order to create a calm and hospitable aural environment for the audience. The intention is to take the audience into a simple and safe sound-world. Once this has been achieved the piece slowly introduces the unusual electronic sounds that would not normally be associated with the kind of sound-world that has been explored using the vocal recordings. In the original performance of Pavanne the electronic sounds came from behind the audience in an attempt to further disturb and alienate the listeners. As the glitchy sounds start to take over the piece the vocal sounds also begin to break down, not in a structural way but by being compressed and distorted. As the whole piece reaches its climax the sounds start to become unbearably loud and overpowering, very much in contrast to the serene mood created at the opening. The crescendo continues with no obvious sign of ending until it abruptly stops leaving only an almost unmodified playing of the ending of one of the two original recordings. This last ten seconds or so are there to remind the audience that although they have been taken through a dark and hostile experience there was always a strand of beauty and simplicity to lend a sense of safety.

There were problems to overcome when faced with planning this piece, firstly I had only read about Anticredos and had not heard it before the performance and secondly I was asked to use specific source material. It was made clear to me that the intention of the piece was to allow the performers time to make it from the rear of the performance space, where they had been singing, to the front of the room for their performance of Anticredos. At this stage it seemed obvious to play with the two opposing ends of the performance space given that the concert itself was to take place at both ends. The fact that Pavanne reverses the chronological and stylistic orientation of the space is not accidental, Pavanne swaps the room around to better prepare the audience for the change in genre that they are about to encounter and created a cultural rotational symmetry for the concert.

The theme of Pavanne, as with much of my music, is the exploration of the interplay between order and chaos as if it were possible to have a fader and change the level of entropy in a given system. In this piece it is not that the vocal lines themselves are ripped apart but that something unpredictable and disturbing creeps in to obscure the designed beauty of the human voice singing highly structured melodies. It is as if the purity of its design is infected with something it cannot control or incorporate.

The reasons for returning to the simplicity of the voice at the very end of the piece are purely musical and not conceptual. In ending Pavanne at the climax of the crescendo the piece would have left listeners confused but by allowing order to exist at the closing, even if very quietly, it draws the listener back to what might be called a comfort-zone.