Introducing the Orchestral Sextet

In the quest for interesting and varied voicings for “In C” within the Ableton Library of midi instruments, I offer for your consideration- The Orchestral Sextet. Four string voices ranging from a synth viola to a full string ensemble pitzing, spiccato-ing and staccato-ing – each available as a separate voicing in the ensemble. The synth viola provides a lush and laggy underpinning for the stabs and plucks of the string ensemble voices. Then, layered over this are the woodwinds in staccato and full voiced modes. The staccato voice is softer, slightly breathy while the full ensemble produces long, high, rich tones and a lovely midrange. For this post, the Orchestral Sextet will perform a slice of “In C” that runs from Pattern 21 to 26. This is a slice that I love because of the dotted quarter triplets swaying together and in counterpoint to each other.


(Here you can see two of the patterns-22 & 25- as example)

Patterns 22 – 26 are dotted quarter note steps from E to B with the raised F that was introduced in Pattern 14. The raised F “In C” creates a tritone harmonic. When the F# is sounded for the first time in Pattern 14, an ominous tension emerges in the piece. It is particularly unsettling in contrast to the sweet C dyads and triads that begin the piece. By the time we get to Patterns 22 – 26, the tonic C has been dropped for a while, so the F# is heard in the harmonic context of an E Dorian modal movement (whole-half-whole-whole.) Now it sounds sweet, if a bit melancholy.

In addition to the tonal content and the waltzy feel, these five patterns vary in length from 19 pulses to 25 pulses. So the lag accumulation effect is compounded here with multiple iterations of each pattern in lag and each pattern in lag with the others patterns. The softer attacks of some string techniques cause the beat to feel laggier still, creating even more density. One of the voices, the synth-viola, has that “behind the beat” feel. For this rendition, I decided to put that instrument on Pattern 21, which is a 6 pulse sustained F#. This is what swells up ond overpowers at the very end of the recording.

A little over half way through the recording you will hear that sustained F# tone fall way back in the mix. You have to REALLY listen for it, but it is there. That quiet drone of the F# tone creates a rich backwash of sound in which the other voices play. I hear it as a kind of “chorus effect” that impacts the overall sound. Buzzing that tonal center low and quiet in the background seems to amplify and integrate the overall sound of the mix. This is more evident through headphones.

Also of note (tingtingtingting) – no pulse! Since the midi instruments can play together very precisely, I want to exploit the opportunity to ditch the pulse when it feels cumbersome. Hearing those dotted eighth note phrases sustained in full with no pulse is a beautiful sound. That section makes my heart waltz. Good name for it – Heart Waltz.

Here is another, quite different framing of Patterns 22 – 26 and beyond, using this same ensemble of voices. I was experimentng with combinations of patterns with syncopated rhythms. This songset begins with Patterns 12 and 18 with the long tone of 19 thrown in for drone effect. In this version, the laggy viola got to play the dotted quarter patterns, so you can feel the drag effect it has on the tempo flow. I love it! It locks into a groove with soft edges. So this recording is longer but equally as interesting and beautiful as the one before. Here we move beyond Patterns 22 – 26 and through a bit of the “rogue” Pattern 35 and land finally on another pair of patterns that I love together – 44 and 45. These two patterns are 6 pulse phrases and thus have the waltzy feel again.

Be prepared for some longer repetitive sections. If you feel agitated with the repetition, breathe and listen more deeply or more gently, lightly. Then when you can do both at once-voila! – a new layer of clarity.


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