Hey everyone, Ryan here! Just finished up a new work for solo tenor trombone entitled Alazia. I figured I would share some thoughts and formal processes I had during the composition process.
The inspiration for this piece comes from the word “Alazia”, which is a neologism crafted by linguist John Koenig as part of his ongoing Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows project where he creates words that embody the abstract, nameless, feelings of the human experience. For the past year, I have been inspired by his work and have been writing a series of pieces, each embodying a single word.
The word “Alazia” is defined as “the fear that you are no longer able to change”. A feeling summed up in the phrase “I am not I”, the unsettling perception of dissonance between your ideal self and your actual self.
The idea of an identity crisis came to mind immediately; the image of an individual that has become aware of their staleness and frantically seeks to make a change in their life, but they don’t know what to change. I attempt to manifest this image by employing sudden textural shifts and facilitating a pervasive feud between various musical textures: the trombone, the performer’s voice and a reoccurring, spoken word, mantra “I am not I”, to represent a manic, frustrated and fearful mental climate. At the same time, I felt the need for subtle unifying factors to tie the textures together, these methods will be explored below. Lastly, to highlight the importance of the individual I wanted to supply the performer with a certain amount of interpretive license, and ambiguity so each performance will vary.
Lets take a look at some passages! You can download the full score score here: ALAZIA
(The notation key is included in the full score).
First off, throughout the score, lengths of events are largely given in seconds and there are many graphic linear content drawings. These are included to give the music some breath and fluidity from performance to performance and to let the performer make the piece their own within a specifically contoured sequence of events.
This first phrase introduces the main textures that will be stressfully vying for the foreground throughout the piece: notes played on the trombone, spoken word (Ah!) and the “mumbling” motive (measure 2). The notation in measure 2 instructs the performer to mumble into the mouthpiece of the trombone while moving the slide by following the linear content drawing. This mumbling reoccurs throughout the piece and is a very effective texture when used on brass instruments, especially the trombone, which is a large amplification device. This first statement is also the longest statement of the mumbling texture. Throughout the piece the mumbling events gradually become shorter in duration (m. 4-6 below), and eventually morph into actual speech.
In measure 12, the “speech sound” texture is developed from primitive mumbling to a vowel sequence. The player sings an “F” while playing a microtonal glissando orbiting around an “F” an octave below. The sung pitch slowly changes from one vowel to the next which produces a haunting, extraterrestrial-like sound. This phrase also introduces a specific vowel sequence which will become a reoccurring theme. The text I produced for this piece actually follows this vowel sequence (see the fragment below which represents the [a] [u] [a] [o] part of the sequence).
Here in measures 55-59 there are sudden juxtapositions of textures from the breath sounds in 55-57 to the pitched trombone sounds in the first half of 58, which morphs into tongue slapped pitches in the later half. Suddenly, a fast, monotone spoken fragment occurs that is abruptly cut off by a loud low pitch. There is a lot of information and contrasting textures packed into a small time frame creating an overall chaotic, flustered texture.
This frantic shifting between the different textures is exemplified in this phrase as well. Here, vocal multiphonics, fluttered notes, sung pitches/words, tongue slapped notes and the “I am not I” mantra are all warring against each other in a short time frame, however, elements such as the retention of “C” as the sung pitch and the mantra (which occurs throughout the piece) provide a sense of cohesion and reference.
This section, measures 49-54, occurs approximately halfway through the piece and takes the “I am not I” theme and combines it with the previously established and developed mumbling texture. This is seen in measures 51-52 where there is two seconds of incoherent mumbling, following a linear content shape, which then changes into an actual linguistic statement that has meaning, the “I am not I” mantra. This section serves to fortify both the mumbling and mantra textures by merging and highlighting them as important structural occurrences.
As the composition works towards its conclusion, the spoken word events occur more frequently. Up until this phrase, measures 83-88, the spoken word events are very isolated and serve to interrupt the trombone and vocal textures. In the later half of the piece, they become more frequent and pronounced. In this specific phrase the interruption dynamic is inverted, instead of the spoken word interrupting a texture played on the trombone, the trombone interrupts the spoken word event. Again, the spoken word text is still related to the initial vowel sequence introduced in measure 12. Here representing [o], [e], [i], [a], [u], [a] and [o].
Measures 89-99 mark the beginning of the concluding section of Alazia and presents the different textures in a relatively orderly progression always following a specific textural order: 1) a melody sung into the trombone while the player moves the slide following the graphic contour 2) A chaotic event consisting of pitches played on the trombone, sung pitches and spoken word 3) a sung or spoken event.
To construct this series of events, I loosely based the length of each texture on fibonacci numbers. Measures 89-91 lasts approximately 12-13 seconds (fibonacci number 13), measures 92-93 last approximately 8 seconds (fibonacci number 8) and to conclude cycle one, measure 94 lasts 5 seconds (another fibonacci number). When the texture cycle repeats, on measure 95, the first event, 95-96, lasts 8 seconds, the second event, 97-98, lasts approx. 5 seconds and the third event, measure 99, lasts 3 seconds, another statement of the fibonacci sequence.
In this final section, there is a sense of order and a reflection on the information presented throughout the composition. It serves as a way of calming the waters so to speak. Hearkening back to the definition of “Alazia”, this is the point where the individual is beginning to sort through the various, warring textures and craft a sense of cohesion.
Thanks for reading!