Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Neil Welch - April 22, 2012


5-Section phase piece for 2 saxophonists and 2 percussionists

In solo music I compose on my horn, but when writing for a larger ensemble I find myself split between my horn and the piano.  I’m a terrible piano player, so I always find it odd that I choose to spend so much time writing on this instrument.  In my solo compositions/improvisations I try to create a sense of more than one instrument being played, yet I haven’t spent much time writing multi-instrumental music strictly on my horn.   To challenge myself as a performer andcomposer, I’ve written a new 5-section phase piece for 2 saxophones and 2 percussion instruments based on techniques developed in my solo playing.  To perform this piece I’m joined by saxophonist Ivan Arteaga and percussionists Greg Campbell and Tom Campbell! 

The piece uses phases of sound that create continuous loops of four sixteenth notes.  These loops are changed by using one of 3 fundamental fingerings along with one of 3 possible pitch alterations.  The pitch alterations are subtle changes in sound of one of the voices in the fingering system.  In the score the fingerings are notated as “I  2  3” and the alterations are notated as “a  b  c.”  They are executed in nine possible combinations:  1.a 1.b 1.c //  2.a. 2.b 2.c // 3.a 3.b. 3.c.  

All the phases are grouped in four sixteenth notes, except 3.a 3.b and 3.c which are grouped in eight sixteenths.  In all the phases the first and third sixteenth notes always use the same tone, played by the saxophones as a concert “D.”  The second sixteenth note is the pitch alteration with directions on how to play it, shown in the score as either being “a.” “b.” or “c,”  The fourth sixteenth note is a fingering with directions on how to play it, show in the score as either being “1.” “2.” or “3.”  These fingerings are then played in 3 possible rhythmic cycles: Slow // Medium // Fast   

Each saxophonist is paired with one percussionist playing the same phases.  The piece is divided up into 5 sections.  In some sections all four musicians are playing the tempo phase along with the same fingerings.  For example, all four musicians may be playing “Slow 1.a”, then “Fast 2.c”, then “Fast 2.b.”  In other cases there will be lengthy sections of polyrhythmic activity.  One duo pair will play “Fast 1.b” while the other pair is overlapping it with “Slow 3.c”  The 5 sections are composed to illicit certain levels of musical activity for the listener, but overall the piece is extremely dense in texture.  In Sections II and IV, all the musicians are playing the same tempo together.  However in section II everyone is playing the phase tempo and same fingering system, whereas in Section IV everyone is playing the same phase tempo, but different fingering systems.  

In this composition I’m interested in creating a landscape where musical events are balanced and density remains almost stationary.  Many of the longer, minimalist or phase-like compositions performed at the Racer Sessions generally had major musical events in them, such as wide dynamic shifts, instruments coming in or out, drones, etc.  In this piece I’d like to experiment with the omission of such events and simply rely on the technical gestures used in the composition.  

There are no recorded pieces that I could share this week that led to the creation of this new piece, so I haven’t included any musical examples in the post.  Thank you for reading and supporting the Racer Sessions, and a special thank you to Ivan, Greg and Tom for working so hard on this piece with me!

-Neil Welch