“In C” – Long Tones Only

I was pleased to see that a group of local musicians did play “In C” at King’s in Raleigh on November 4, the actual 50th anniversary of the first performance of the piece. I did not make it out to hear it and have heard nothing further about it. The Indy Weekly was supposed to have a review, but that never materialized. I hope it was fabulous! I am disappointed that I was unable to realize the vision of playing “In C” for hours with a large community of musicians and dancers and other artists. I will continue to play around with the pieces and parts of “In C” for the remainder of the year as I think it still has much to teach me.

I am exploring the long tone patterns. The majority of the 53 patterns in the piece contain 8th note runs of varying lengths. The long tone patterns are dominated by whole and half notes, some are even dotted. A dotted whole note gets 12 pulses. Whoa! These notes take up alot of space. There is one quarter note thrown into one of the patterns, but not an 8th note in sight.

There are 8 long tone patterns total and they are parceled throughout the piece to give some breathing room and add sonic interest. Patterns 6 and 8 are the early arrivals, and Patterns 42 and 48 bring up the end. In between come two significant patterns that introduce and contextualize the shift from Ionian mode to Lydian mode with the introduction of the F# into the C tonality. (This is the sound of the tritone which was forbidden in church music due to its tense and dissonant vibration.) Two of the long tone patterns contain the F#- one is a 12 pulse sustained F# and the other is a C-B-G-F# with each note held for four pulses. Playing any of the other long tone patterns against these two patterns engenders a feeling of dread in me. The other patterns are so sweet in their “C”ness that the F# patterns sound intrusive, ominous and unwanted. The F# can create discomfort in a listener.

With this in mind then, how to arrange these long tone patterns into a satisfying interplay? The movement seems to organize itself around introducing, getting used to and then enveloping the tritone tension. (As a side note: a small group of women I met through some Coursera courses on sound and music have been chatting and sharing work on line. It was recently suggested to use the concept of tension-release as a prompt for exploration. This is feeling like an exploration of tension-release to me.) So first to establish the C modality, Patterns 6 and 8 create a simple lulling motion back and forth. For me, there is tension immediately due to the rocking back and forth on the G to F of Pattern 8. While a whole tone is pleasing as it passes, rocking back and forth on it creates some dissonance and tension. At the same time, we are hearing the C-G stabilizing fifth relationship, but even that sounds a bit off to the ear because the C is high and the G lower. Very interesting!

So the introduction of the F# will layer into and heighten an already existing tension. The manner in which the F# is introduced will dictate the quality of this next level of tension created in the piece. When the F# enters with alot of immediate presence, the startle response is triggered. I opted for an accumulation of tension by bringing the F# slowly up into the mix. At almost the same time, another layer of tension is created with the Pulse. I love the voicing of the eighth note C pulse on high strings and a quarter note pulse on the low end. It sounds very cool, and adds alot of tension due to the drive it creates. The floaty feeling of the long tones gets washed away by this incessant pulse.

Once the F# and the Pulse have fully arrived in the mix, the urge is to find some relief from this confluence of dissonance and drive. While the urge could be heightened by layering in the voices in a cacophony of pattern changes, I opted to move toward resolution pretty quickly. There are two phrases that contribute to resolving the tri-tone, the C-B-G-F# with its C root and fifth providing the beginnings of a stable path for the F#. The pattern that brings it home is Pattern 42 with its iteration of the first inversion C Major chord: E-G-C. When that Pattern makes an entrance there is just a feeling of calm and “everything will be alright” that comes into the mix. And, to be honest, even though the F# is left behind in the end, the feeling it engendered still lingers in the sonic landscape. So the tension never quite releases. Hmmmm! What do you hear?


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