10 musicians and gamelan

Commission: Société Radio-Canada (SRC)

Premiere: March 7, 2005, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2005: Les oiseaux exotiques, Salle Pierre-Mercure — Centre Pierre-Péladeau, Montréal (Québec)

A couple of years ago, Véronique Lacroix approached me with her concept of doing a full concert around the idea of birds, centering on Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Would I be interested in composing a piece for her Ensemble in that context? A challenge yes, but an irresistible one. The commission then progressed into including the Evergreen Gamelan Ensemble of Toronto. In a way it is the presence of the gamelan that shaped the piece: the potential inherent in the eight percussion players and the definite Eastern colors of their instruments.

In keeping the spirit of birds alive, I focused on the sounds of the wings flapping, flock of birds lifting in that perfect choreography alternating from chaos to fleeting order, the effervescence, the gentle magic of the patterns created by the movement in space. The piece is constructed in three sections with a coda. Each section explores a particular color: white, gold and multicolor. The piece is always built in layers with attention paid not only to the progression of the focused color, but also to the density, the spatial movement, the concept of chaos (complex rhythmic figures) against order (unison) and the dynamic fluctuations.

For «white», the Gamelan only plays with brushes and the woodwinds and brass are often used like mirages of the percussion’s harmony. They also add a layer of white punctuation with wind sounds, rubbing of sand blocks and rain sticks or setting lingering harmonies against a metal layer of clicking of keys, scratched tam-tam and col legno battutto at the bass. For «gold» all percussion are playing small Cheng-cheng Cymbals, in an exuberant and extravagant way while the woodwinds and brass hold the reverberating sounds as if to create an evanescent reflexion and start to draw «spinning sounds» similar to bird calls. In the last section, the woodwinds resonate with tremolos calls, while the Gamelan is now playing mostly dead strokes in unison and latter on falling out of phases, The coda deconstructs some of the wave patterns that are present throughout the piece and ends exactly where the piece starts with a repetition of the first three measures.

L’échappée d’ailes is a commission of la Société Radio-Canada

Linda Bouchard