The Pressure and Speed series grew out of a desire to notate certain aspects of my improvisational practice in a way that can be easily (though obliquely) communicated to other musicians. The pieces in this series can be imagined as guided improvisations using simple instructions that ask the performer to give meaning to notational variables as well as participate in creating the shape and duration of individual phrases.

Through analyzing my double-bass technique I began developing a generalized description of instrumental actions. This way of describing sound production allowed me to treat instrumental technique parametrically rather than as discrete sounds. In this system standard instrumental technique is only one possible combination of the parameters among many other possibilities. This means that tone producing instrumental techniques and noise producing instrumental techniques can be expressed using one form of notation, conceptually joining the sounds rather than treating one as normal and one as exception.

One consequence of this notation is that it is slow to interpret and thus does not easily communicate rapid gestural actions. As a result the music created with this notation is focused on layers of shifting textures, which appear and disappear, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. The listener, and performer as listener (because good improvisation is in part virtuosic listening) are asked to concentrate on the sound masses created from simple manipulations of pressure and speed, and to work with the surprises brought about by each member of the ensemble making their own decisions about entrances and exits.

The beginnings and endings of each phrase are left open for the performer within specified bounds. Beginnings of phrases are to be decided in performance giving each musician the option to respond, support, or obscure other performers in the ensemble. Once a phrase is started the duration is a function of the performer’s physical interaction with their instrument since the durations are tied directly to bow and breath lengths.

Pitch material is severely constrained to accentuate the variations created by the changes in pressure and speed. All variations in pitch come about as a consequence of parametric changes making the contingency of all the aspects of sound production audible. In addition some combinations of coordinates may seem paradoxical, contradictory, and perhaps impossible. All of the puzzling aspects of the composition are intentional and are offered as a gift to the inquisitive and creative performer.

performed by Flux Quartet