Soft Morning, City!

Categories: Elettroacustica
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Published on: 3 August 2008

Un altro brano di Tod Machover dopo Light. Anche questo è distribuito da AGP da cui potete scaricarlo in formato FLAC.

Si tratta di Soft Morning, City! che presentiamo con le note dell’autore, è per soprano, contrabbasso e suoni elettronici sia sintetici che ottenuti elaborando gli strumenti. Il testo è tratto dal monologo di Anna Livia Plurabelle, nel Finnegan’s Wake di James Joyce.

Soft Morning, City! (which was commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for Jane Manning and Barry Guy) presents its qualities more immediately and directly. This is due mostly to the presence of James Joyce’s text, the final monologue from Finnegans Wake. The particular passage that I have chosen here has interested me for many years. Coming at the end of this monumental epic, it is a melancholy and moving swansong of the book’s main female character, Anna Livia Plurabelle. Now appearing as a washerwoman, she recalls her life as she walks along Dublin’s River Liffey at daybreak. Many different planes of narrative are interlaced, the mundane with the spiritual, the sexual with the aesthetic, the personal with the universal. Joyce achieves the closest thing to the temporal parallelism of music by snipping each layer of narrative into short, constantly varying and overlapping phrases. The great beauty is that Joyce creates not the eclectic choppiness that such a procedure might suggest, but a majestic form of tremendous power and sweep. It seems to me that Joyce achieves this through an organization of the over-all sound of the passage in an unprecedented way. Listening to a reading-aloud of the text, one is carried by its cadences, tidal flows, crescendos and dvina-awavs, even while being sometimes onlv half-sure . , of the meaning of certain words. it is the rare combination of polyphonic verbal richness with inherent sonic structure that makes it ideal for a musical setting.

My setting takes the form of an aria, though a rather extended and elaborate one. Attention is always focused on the soprano, who alternates between long melodic lines and short interjections that change character quickly. The double bass lends support to the soprano, provides harmonic definition and melodic counterpoint, and often adds musical commentary.

The computer tape helps to amplify, mirror and extend the myriad reflections of Anna Livia, but at the same time acts as a unifying force. To emphasize closeness to the live performers, a new process is added whereby soprano and double bass music is directly transformed by the computer, producing at times sounds that seem to fuse the two into one musical image.

The work begins in stillness, with the soprano evoking the atmosphere of morning, surrounded by an ethereal transformation of her own breath. With the entrance of the double bass, various different strands of the textual polyphony are introduced one after the other, each with characteristic music. As the sonority of the tape gets closer to that of the live instruments, the musical layers begin to overlap with greater rapidity. In the lengthy middle section, many different layers are superimposed so that at the moment of greatest intensity and complexity a new unity is formed.

From this plateau, the rest of the work is built. Quiet communion is achieved between soprano and bass. This leads directly to a long melodic section, with soprano accompanied by a continuous harmonic progression in bass and tape.

After a final moment of lonely reflection (“O bitter ending!…”), an enormous wave washes over Anna Livia and carries her away. A quiet coda uses delicate, distant images to recall the stillness of the work’s opening. A chapter is closed, a deep breath taken, and we prepare, led by Joyce’s Liffey (“Riverrun…”), to begin again.

Tod Machover, Soft Morning, City!, per soprano, contrabbasso e suoni elettronici.
Jane Manning, soprano; Barry Guy, Double Bass. Computer parts realized at IRCAM, Paris

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