FOR E-FLAT SOPRANINO SAXOPHONE WITH LIVE ELECTRONICS
初生態 Nascent States for Sopranino Saxophone & Electronics completes a cycle of pieces written from 2009-2012 in Taipei, Taiwan. These pieces concern themes of memory and decontextualization in various ways, and they all have Chinese names. Nascent States is my farewell to Taiwan for this chapter of my life, recalling the day I left in August 2012. Saying goodbye foreshadowed the loss of my uncle, who passed early in September. The difficult task of parting with him is mirrored in leaving Taiwan, which came suddenly, in the chaos of a typhoon, culminating in my flight taking off in harsh conditions and narrowly missing real danger.
I found myself suddenly saying goodbye to parts of the city from our taxi to the airport, and all at once I felt, “This is how we wish we could die: to be so excitedly wrapped up in life that it comes without warning, but with just enough time to realize it and still be excited for whatever unknown is ahead.” The title Nascent States refers to the feeling of separation from myself during this epiphany, and from the ground during takeoff.
The piece follows the general outline of ground, takeoff, and contemplation of various sound structures (I’ve never heard so many interesting sounds during a takeoff than this one, with all kinds of rain and wind pounding at the plane) until finally a quieter serenity is achieved in the higher altitudes.The sopranino saxophone was chosen for its ability to mimic the sounds of the suona, 嗩吶, the Beiguan Chinese oboe, frequently heard outdoors in Taiwanese processionals and particularly at funerals. Since it’s most commonly heard in pairs and filtered by nearby buildings and spaces, both live and prerecorded sopranino are diffused with complex delay and spatialization.
Much of the solo part is improvised and based on the opening motive of 百鸟朝凤 Homage to the Phoenix, one of the most famous suona melodies often performed at funerals, recalling the themes of flight, ascent and ceremony. The phase vocoded sounds are of the sopranino imitating birds, as is traditionally improvised by the suona during Homage to the Phoenix. It’s interesting that the Shandong tradition includes this melody in both weddings and funerals; life and death are both “celebrations.”
Software for this piece utilizes both live and prerecorded sounds of the sopranino sax. All sounds and textures are derived from synthesis methods such as ring modulation, delay filtering, and analysis/synthesis routines, including a patch that scales a live sinusoidal model with tuning ratios of the Chinese pentatonic scales. These ancient scales suggest the timelessness of the work’s idée fixe.