For One Week Only: String Quartet No.2 – Canon in Beta

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Update: the piece is now permanently available for download at Cooky La Moo.
It’s short, it’s austere, it’s a strict canon, it’s about 6 Meg and available for download for one week only. The piece was made out of an unfulfilled wish to hear Phill Niblock’s music – despite having heard about it for over ten years I’d never actually managed to hear any of it – so I created an ersatz composition based on descriptions of the original. I knew it typically involved someone playing one note for a long time, over and over again, and then overdubbing all the renditions of said note, resulting in -?- : a mysterious product of all the previously imperceptible fluctuations of intonation from one idealised pitch.
The piece started as a sample of homogenous sound fed through a (virtual) tape delay system, using small variations in filtering to produce gradually shifting overtones on a steady harmonic base. It was long, capricious, and sometimes very loud. Then its nature shifted to a prolonged, almost inaudible performance piece, requiring great concentration and self-control to make a few gestures with little immediately-noticeable effect. Over several incarnations the piece became more and more restrained until it was reduced to this 5-minute composition, a fixed object for contemplation, stripped of added harmonic complexity and overwhelming volume.
This isn’t one note, but it is a single chord played by 240 string quartets with a remarkably uniform sense of intonation, each playing in a very rapidly articulated canon in unison, and each able to expertly imitate the slightest change of nuance in tone colour of its predecessor.
Totally download that thing now!
It’s ideally heard at a modest level, where you only notice the changes if you concentrate. Or if you prefer, set it on repeat, crank it up and switch the telly to a report on Third World child labour for the full faux-Niblock concert experience in your own home.
Made with Ross Bencina’s excellent program AudioMulch.