An Abbreviated Space

Commissioned by the Astra Chamber Music Society earlier this year as part of the 2014 memorial concert for Lawrence (Laurie) Whiffin, teacher, colleague and friend, An Abbreviated Space draws on Whiffin’s short serial work A Brief Moment – for woodwind trio – as a point of departure.

The title and organising principles of the piece assume something of a spatial analogue to the temporal theme of Laurie’s title, where initial ideas about spectral treatments and layering of a selection of motifs gradually evolved to embrace spatiality – not simply in terms of the effect of sounds moving across a sound field (though they do), but as a means of shaping formal aspects of the work. To this end, a larger collection of discrete sound elements – all derived in one way or another from the performer – roam through a virtual space, only becoming apparent to the listener as they traverse the ‘window of audition’.

Technically, this is one of the most elaborate software setups I have used in a live performance. Drawing on a modified version of the spatial sound engine developed for “Passing By…” and using the IRCAM MUBU (multi-buffer) set of objects for Max to segment and attach descriptors, various ‘interpretations’ of the sound of the flute (unaffected samples, time and/or pitch shifted samples or spectral snapshots) are injected into the virtual sound space to create a constantly evolving multi-channel soundscape within which the solo instrument is immersed.

The piece was additionally performed in July at the Australasian Computer Music Conference at the VCA city campus in Melbourne. At both performances the response was most favourable; something I hadn’t entirely expected (but was happy about anyway). My gratitude is extended to Tamra Kohler for stepping in to (admirably) perform this piece with limited prep time, and also to Mardi McSullea for her contribution in the development and first performance of the work.


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