Commissioned in 2000 by the NZTrio, A Feather of Blue takes its title from a phrase in a poem called A View From A Window by New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland. I have always admired the wry humour and brightness of Kevin Ireland’s writing and many years ago set three of his poems for soprano and mixed ensemble. As a kind gesture Mr Ireland sent me a copy of his book of poems Skinning A Fish, and I was particularly struck by the imagery of colours, flowers, feathers and birds in this poem, which illustrates rain pouring down a window pane and giving way to a burst of sunshine after a storm.
Much of the surface of this piece inhabits an area on the brink of silence. This is an extremely unsafe area for the performer, because he or she constantly risks losing the sound altogether. It is hoped that the soft dynamic levels focus the listener’s attention on the microscopic shifts in timbre, pitch and loudness that are the central material of the composition. Below the surface, rather than employing an overall unifying structure/process, several processes are active simultaneously, and much of the composition is the result of these processes tearing at each other while competing for priorty. There is an “organic” process of growth, that conditions the placement of events in time, as well as the pitch and timbral relationships between these events. Superimposed on this structure is a spectral analysis of the title of the piece, taken from Ezra Pound’s “Cantos”, which also impacts on the placement of events and their internal shape, effectively “damaging” the underlying organic organisation. The third main layer relates to pitch organisation and is based on an analysis of Edgard Varese’s “Density 21.5”. This layer is of particular importance for the “grace note” figures that abound, figures which exist “outside” the main body of the composition, but give important structural clues relating to both the first and second processes mentioned above. “And, out of nothing, a breathing, hot breath on my ankles” was written for, and is dedicated to Ales Kacjan.
The tension between the piano’s percussive mechanism and the fluidity of water has borne fruit in countless works for piano: from Ravel’s Ondine and Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, to Schubert’s Am Meer. Not coincidentally, these works were among those played by my grandmother as silent film “scores” in the small New Zealand town of Takaka. In Aquamarine watery fragments from the musical past refract and reflect.