RICHARD BARRETT: life-form for cello and 8-channel electronics (2012)

Life-form was commissioned for Arne Deforce by Concertgebouw Brugge, Centre Henri Pousseur (Liège) November Music (‘sHertogenbosch), and the Academie der Kunsten, 'samenwerkingsinstituut van de Universiteit van Leiden en de Hogeschool der Kunsten Den Haag'.

As the title of life-form evokes, the overall form of the piece relates to a contemplation of the metamorphic life-cycles of many different kinds of creature, particularly insects - cycles in the course of which an organism might shed its skin several times, each time revealing a different shape which has been growing and differentiating beneath the surface, and each time emerging into a new habitat. 

  •  Anaphase - the stage in cell-division (meiosis) where the chromosomes of a cell are drawn to its opposite ends
  • Axon - the thread linking the two ends of a nerve-cell
  • Arboreal - life in the trees and forests
  • Aciculae - spine- or bristle-like features in living organisms or crystals
  • Afar - a region of Ethiopia where many pre-human remains are found, including the skeleton known as "Lucy"
  • Aerial - life in the air (birds, flying insects, seeds...)
  • Anthesis - the process by which a flower or comparable structure opens out
  • Apoptosis - is the process wherein a body destroys its own cells as part of growth or metamorphosis, as when an insect larva is in its cocoon.
  • Abyss - life in the depths
  • Anapanasati - "mindfulness of breathing" in yoga

Its electronic part is (pre-)composed but influenced in real time by the cellist, according to a computer program created by Patrick Delges at the Centre Henri Pousseur. The solo cello becomes not only a kind of concerto soloist, but also conductor and coordinator of the “virtual orchestra” which envelops the space spatially and sonically. This system is intended to combine two ideals: firstly, precise coordination of electronics with the instrument, though without forcing the player to follow an inflexible fixed part, and secondly an “orchestral” complexity of textures and timbres, by using precomposed sounds created using processes impossible or exceedingly complicated to replicate in real time. The cello "imagines" - or dreams - an entire orchestra within itself, and this orchestra takes on its own independent life (and death).

The overall form, from which the title derives, relates to a contemplation of the metamorphic life-cycles of many different kinds of creature, particularly insects - cycles in the course of which an organism might shed its skin several times, each time revealing a different shape which has been growing and differentiating beneath the surface, and each time emerging into a new habitat. The music isn’t intended to illustrate some particular metamorphosis but to be in itself the “life-form” - the cello undergoes a kind of metamorphosis of its own, as if transforming between a sequence of different instruments - for example by being retuned for each of the ten sections of the composition, and sometimes also within these sections, so that the harmonic and resonant character of the instrument passes through many forms. (The traditional tuning is used only in section 8.)

None of the electronic sounds are derived from cello sounds, and in fact almost all of them are synthetic rather than based on recorded sounds of any kind. This may seem paradoxical or contrary in view of the “life-form” idea, but again this idea is not intended to be illustrative; rather, the soundprocesses you hear might be compared to the processes of metabolism and catabolism, proliferation, differentiation and decomposition which we see in living (and dead) organisms and in the interactions of entire ecosystems. The only non-synthetic sounds in fact are the cowbells heard in the fifth and last electronic episode of section 5, which were recorded in the Auvergne in the summer of 2012.

The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy speaks in his film Rivers and Tides of “understanding the stone”, to the extent necessary to build a stable structure with whatever kind of material he is working with. The stability of the structure, its symmetry and beauty, is the way in which this understanding takes perceptible form and communicates itself to the viewer. The attentive viewer is led not so much to understand something about the artist as to understand something about the material, about the stone. I think this idea has much in common with my conception of how music communicates itself to listeners, and in particular how I conceive questions of (self-) expression.

RB

Life-form, page 3 Anaphase

Life-form, page 3 Anaphase

arboreal screenshot of the version for electronics solo

arboreal screenshot of the version for electronics solo