Overcasting (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
Over the years I’ve made a bunch of overtone versions of traditional Irish sean nós songs as a way of discovering new things in them and me. In the unaccompanied vocal sean nós tradition, a lot of play is made of the cracks between the notes, something that intrigues me. I’ve been especially obsessed by Táim sínte ar do thuama (I am stretched on your grave) - a song about obsession!
When I started writing this piece for the LA Phil, I had a definite aural image in mind: a pulsating organism that kept shifting in and out of an overtone-based focus, brightening and darkening. But I needed something concrete, almost like an urlinie, to guide me in this pursuit, and that’s when I thought of the melodic shape of Táim sínte. You see, it shifts ever so slightly from verse to verse to account for the words, and yet remains clearly the same thing. I took this approach to a logical extreme, inspired by the notion of “sínte”, stretching and contracting the melodic shape, making versions where all the melodic notes exist as overtones of one governing fundamental, stretching out on top of the fundamental as it were, to more complex ones with shifting fundamentals, almost akin to functional harmony with changing bass notes. These fractal shapes informed the material of the piece, and indeed the shape of individual sections is often a kind of magnification of a shape of a small phrase, so despite the fact that the surface of my piece sounds nothing like sean nós music, it exerts an influence on the structure of the piece. Overcasting is in five sections, connecting continuously, transforming into each other – like weather systems over the Atlantic - eventually evaporating.
Special thanks are due to Hannah Miller and the late Matt Marks, both who gave me exhaustive advice – over email – on the various practicalities of horn harmonics.