…alter the way things are with us down here

posted on July 29th 2014 in with 0 Comments

Instrumentation: Amplified Double Bass Quartet

Duration: 15 minutes

Premiered by Los Angeles Philharmonic Bass Quartet on April 3, 2012

Commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic

When I was asked by Chris, Oscar, Dave, and Peter to write a piece for them with amplified processing, I wanted to figure out a way to make the effects valid. To use a delay pedal or a distortion effect is merely just that – an effect. I wanted to find a purpose for these effects and have them be connected not only to the form of the piece, but also to the playing techniques of the double bass. While working, I came across this paragraph from Canto 20 of Dante’s Purgatorio:

You heavens, whose revolutions, we believe,
alter the way things are with us down here,
when will he come to put this wolf to flight?
We went our way with slow, restricted tread,
I listening to the shadows whom I heard…..

This text is unique for its use of double narrative. Two perspectives, the human and the divine, create tensions and contrasts giving way to an unexpected rebirth of realization.

For my piece, there are two distinguishable narratives: the material developed by the performers’ idiomatic techniques and the processed material. The listener is encouraged to draw parallels and contrasts between the two separate chains of events, which run parallel to each other without exerting direct influence over each other. The introduction of each line set temporally against each other constantly questions the function of each narrative. In this way I was “parallel editing,” emphasizing similarities and contrasts between both lines of material. For example the pressed bows, Bartók pizzicatos, and ponticello playing positions run parallel to the distortion effects. The canonic material and echo effects are juxtaposed with different speeds of delay processing. This cross cutting of each line, sometimes in quick succession, helps to create tension between the separate lines. The form of the piece is an inverted arch. The soft rumbling of the opening rises from the depths of the lowest sounds. The conclusion fades out, but this time heading up towards an ethereal sound world of pitch-less colors.

A very important part of this piece required the expertise of Mike Valerio. I have to thank him for his help with organizing and running the amplification and processing.

— Joseph Pereira