burlesques mécaniques is a rather extroverted collection of grotesque miniatures whose characters are not people or animals but dances. These dances have been mechanised, electrified, and often obscured by their own rhythmic impulse. Old forms and formulaic tropes are given new identities, freed from the confines of metric stability and the expectation that they be “danceable”. The essentially mechanical, artificial aspect of music (and of art in general?) is embodied in the piano, here a brittle, seedy protagonist whose string limbs hover and flail about it. Conflicting rhythms dominate the surface, oscillating between insistent repetition and mad, angular flourishes. The generally jerky, muscular rhythmic material is periodically frozen throughout the work, most strikingly in the ninth movement (chain). Here a string of rich, impressionistic chords briefly reveals an alternative, interior world which is then rudely dismissed in an almost haphazard finale.
This work was written for the NZTrio while I was the inaugural University of Otago/James Wallace Artist in Residence at the Pah Homestead.
Twinkle twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are?
A little bit hound, a little bit fox,
a junkie for the ballot box?
Twinkle twinkle little star
who’d have thought you’d come this far.
[adapted from Sam Mahon’s A Knight’s Tale]
While Jekyll Rat is based on a prominent New Zealand politician, it unfortunately could be applicable to a number of political figures. It deals with my anger and frustration that a number of local body representatives and nationally elected politicians forget that they were elected to represent their constituents and instead become absorbed by the power and prestige of the position, or use their power and influence for personal gain.
Jekyll Rat has three movements. The first “Me ne frego” (translation: I don’t give a dam), starts with the statement of the principal theme but then over the course of the movement is gradually consumed by an insidiously growing chromatic semiquaver sequence in the strings. The second “Sycophant’s Dance,” moves between sections of slightly awkward and clumsy pomposity, teetering fragility and vicious rage. The final movement “Insanity represented by Mustard Yellow” is fast and frenetic until it finally ends with an almost elegiac reprisal of the principal theme.
When I think of a piano trio, I immediately think of a transparent interplay of lines. This has something to do with the fact that the instruments that make up the modern piano trio are not particularly homogeneous, unlike say, a string quartet. It’s as if somebody had strewn some line drawings of simple three dimensional objects on a photographer’s lightbox, all on top of one another, resulting in an unexpected and strangely beautiful assemblage.