This “reverse theme and variations” was realized in Studio B of the Experimental Music Studiols at University of Illinois, Urbana, USA. Distorted beyond recognition, and then increased in speed to the point of white noise, the “theme” or sound source is revealed in the final moments. And, as should be the case, John Barrymore has the last word.
I’ve admired John Psathas’ music for years, for its incredible sense of energy, its ability to defy categorization, and its cultural pluralism. With 4BY4 (his first non-pitched percussion piece), John delivers on all counts … and then some. If David Weckl, Christopher Lamb, Steven Schick and Giovanni Hidalgo – all percussion virtuosi from widely different genres – were to have a jam session, I can’t help but think that it would sound something like 4BY4.
Each of the four players plays a drumset-like set-up; one player has two snare drums a hi-hat, a tambourine, and a cymbal, another has two congas and a hihat, and the remaining two have tom-based set-ups. However, what binds these four seemingly disparate voices is the kick drum, which all four drumsets have. At times, these four drums pound a relentless beat in unison, and at others they’re split into complex rhythmic counterpoint.
It is this, in part, that makes 4BY4 such a great piece and a perfect fit for this album. John manages to take culturally different instruments, each with different playing techniques, and link them together with a common element – the kick drum. It is cultural pluralism at its best, with each voice maintaining its unique sound and identity, but seamlessly integrated into a common whole. - Omar Carmenates
The title itself is a play on the words “fatality” and “tonality”, the two words and concepts colliding to form “[f]at[on]ality”. Similarly, the music presents two contrasting musical languages that intersect and compete violently for dominance. The first of these is a tonal language, represented by various types of (major/minor etc.) chords derived from four constituent triads of a twelve-tone row. The first phrase presents this language in conflict with itself, collapsing two triads into a hexachord at the punctuation points of the phrase. These chords then begin to extricate and extrapolate themselves, – beginning in the right hand at the start of the second phrase – under which the twelve-tone row (presented in the accelerating and decelerating lines of the first phrase) is fragmented and rhythmically manipulated. This twelve-tone row represents the second musical language, that is, a quasi-serial atonal language that is subjected to transformation by inversion, retrograde, multiplication etc. While on one level the music is concerned with the intersection and interdependence of these languages, it is also concerned with the dramatic consequences of that collision. The dynamic and rhythmic frameworks are somewhat extreme, providing a constantly surging, climactic structure that, in the end, resolves ambivalently. The inspiration for the piece came from a poetic doodle, reprinted below:
wanting to dis / dys
place / figure / function
this fatal tonality
this [f]at[on]al entity
cacophonic / catatonic
coughed up and codified
maybe some kind of
superficial facticity / deep fiction
palimpsestic / incestuous