A music-theatre work especially written for Wellington pianist Dan Poynton. Although referring indirectly to religious symbolism, the composition focuses on the physical and mental stress that pianists submit themselves to.
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.
For prepared piano and exploring pianist, uses the classic piano piano preparations: coins (to detune the strings), screws, wiring insulation sheathing, plus bubble wrap, a rubber ball and small wooden balls, two round stones, a bowl gong, mallets and a water glass. The piece was commissioned by Lois Svard, to whom it is dedicated and who has given many superb performances of it.
When I started experimenting with these objects on my own piano, I found that even slight changes in the method of producing a sound evoked striking variants in sonic details, for example: rocking a stone gently between two sets of strings brins out several pitches and their overtones, iterating in unpredictable rhythms. Getting the stone to rock really hard adds higher pitches and at times the stone will turn over, setting of a new set of strings and pitches, which gradually fade away as the stone comes to rest.
The work is set up as an open-ended exploration, in which have determined which ‘tools’ are to be used in each section, and the pianist is asked to listen closely to the sounds created by each action, and to explore further the variants which arise when she or he uses a little more pressure and change of speed, a slightly different wrist position, a different make of piano. I think of this experience as “ear-walking”, like a hiker exploring a landscape.
These pieces utilise Abelian form, a concept I developed whereby the proportions of a large form were reflected in its constituent parts. A large form, for instance, has sections A, B, C, D, and E, with respective durations t1, t2, t3, t4, t5. A, B, C, D, E also have subsections whose proportions are also t1, t2, t3, t4, t5. We can designate the subsections of A as Aa, Ab, Ac, Ad and Ae, and similarly for the others. The whole process can be shown in the following table: Aa Ab Ac Ad Ae Ba Bb Bc Bd Be Ca Cb Cc Cd Ce Da Db Dc Dd De Ea Eb Ec Ed Ee This looks like a mathematical Abelian Group – hence the name. The durations of subsections symmetrically placed about the leading diagonal (Aa, Bb, Cc, Dd and Ee) are also equal because duration of Ab = duration of Ba, duration of Ac = duration of Ca, etc. This fact led me to use the same material in matching subsections, often mirrored. In PIANOPOEMS 1, 4, 8 and 9 I use this form; although the proportions are all equal, the Abelian shape determines the order. 1 Abelian form (3 X 3 matrix) with overlaps 2 a mirror piece 3 a chance piece: the contents of the four different chords and their order and the interruptions by the fist rolls were all determined by chance 4 Abelian form (4 X 4 matrix): all sections are four bars long. Subsection Ab is the mirror of subsection Bb, etc 5 Free form 6 Bogen form: A, B, C, C’, B’, A’, where A’ is the augmentation of A, etc 7 Free variations on a short melody 8 Abelian form (3 X 3 matrix): all repetitions are shortened 9 Abelian form (4 X 4 matrix) using fragments from sections 1 to 8