A Space for Tension (2012) for erhu, 2 violins and tape, premiered by the TiMi Ensemble at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, March 18th 2012, supported by a Culture Ireland travel award

A Space for Tension explores the perceptual and affective properties of various drone configurations. The piece is structured around tape–based drones of alternate tuning and microtonal just intonation intervals (created through spectral and granular processing of materials largely derived from physical modelling synthesis), providing carefully–specified textural dissonances which are constants throughout the different ‘drone–spaces’/’spaces of tension’ through which the piece proceeds.

The drones are, in effect, environments with acoustic (and formal) properties with which the live instruments (as ‘agents’ ) interact by using pitch materials which correspond with the intervals of the relevant ‘drone–space’. From the affective perspective, these materials are designed to delineate distinct emotional–affective ‘spaces’ of varying degrees of tension (based on sensory factors such as density of harmonic spectra/critical band overlap and relative periodicity rates). Materials are structured along an axis from grouped/blended to perceptually segregated. Perceptual segregation occurs through the exploitation of relative extremes of conditions and configurations of materials so that the normal heuristics involved in auditory perception (see Bregman’s (1990) Auditory Scene Analysis) are subverted, resulting in ‘heard out’ harmonics/partials. The combination of pure tunings and senza vibrato articulations enhance the perceptual blending of materials with the background drones; more vibrato–heavy articulations, louder dynamics and sul ponticello articulations all encourage perceptual segregation. The use of pitch materials matching the harmonic spectra of the drones also contributes to the perceptual decomposition of the harmonic timbre (based on the ‘old–plus–new heuristic’ principle of perception described by Bregman). In addition, there are many cases throughout where the instrumental lines provide live reinforcement of the harmonic materials of the drone part.

a space for tension harmonic clock basic harmonic space

a space for tension harmonic clock

A Space for Tension score

B Bridges a Space for Tension score