Marc Yeats: Observation 1.7.5

Marc Yeats: Observation 1.7.5

I first met Marc through a mutual friend before the dawn of time (well, it feels like it – I was an undergrad) when he was living on the Isle of Skye. Since then he's moved south and enjoys a busy and successful career. Marc is a self-taught composer, who has developed a distinctive style, influenced by complexity and abstract art (he’s also a talented artist). I’ve played a lot of his music over the years, and I’ve enjoyed watching how his style has changed and developed.

With Marc’s music, there’s always an element of challenge. This piece, which was written specifically for this concert is no exception, and there are all sorts of challenges flying all over the place. First, there are the notes. Marc’s language is microtonal and there’s nothing I enjoy more that putting my Kingma system instruments through their paces, so this sort of challenge is fun! Then there are the tempos. This is actually one of the hardest parts of this piece, as there are sudden tempo changes which don’t always relate to clear metric modulations and it’s important to hit the speeds exactly right. I’ve been learning to do this through a lot of individual metronome work on each section, and working on all the sections that have the same tempo in a group, so that the ‘feel’ of the music sticks in my mind.

Understanding the music is another challenge with repertoire like this. Observation 1.7.5 is one of Marc’s asynchronous pieces, which is a fascinating approach to complexity. The idea is that the players (in this case, alto flute, bassoon and violin) begin together, but play independently; there is no score, we’re all at different tempos and the bar number/rehearsal marks don’t line up either. That means from a rehearsal point of view that we have to start at the beginning, and go, and hope that we finish at roughly the same time. There are, however, some safety nets built in. Each player follows a stopwatch, and timings are given throughout the piece, so that we can stay on track. There are also a few moments with rests, so if anyone gets ahead or behind, there’s space to adjust. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical when I first worked on a piece written in this style (The Moon Upright) - but the end result was actually quite fascinating and no less convincing than if the piece had been written in a more conventional way. This approach to composition creates complex textures in a simpler way than notating everything in full, especially when one of the ideas of complexity is the sense of ‘struggle’ to play all of the notes; with Marc’s way, the battle is a personal, individual one, with each of us working against the clock on our own parts, but at the same time as each other. There are variations in every performance, and often many surprises (even for the performers), but the overall sound is distinct to this piece. The more I play it, the more I notice patterns, for example, certain techniques that reappear, or little rhythmic or melodic motifs which keep coming back. There are some moments of elegance and poise, and even some poetry, and these details are the sorts of things that may become clearer to an audience through multiple hearings. I hope, then, that we’ll get to play this again some time!

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