Liquid Study no 1

for string quartet and electronics

Full Score (pdf)

300 Word Statement

Liquid Study no 1 was composed for the Arditti String quartet and premiered in San Diego California (2015). The composition of both the acoustic and electronic parts draws on several research areas, including concatenative sound synthesis, computer-aided acoustic composition, and score following.

The piece is the first in a series of compositions exploring an imagined physics based on the behaviour of fluids. Ideas such as turbulence, ripples, surface tension, and the interaction of dissimilar liquids inspired the gestural language and formal design of the piece. The liquid metaphor is also a reference to the composer's open source collaborative software programme, AudioGuide, which seeks to enable a more fluid sense of control over authoring musical gesture through concatenative sound synthesis.

Traditional concatenative synthesis was extended for this piece to answer the following question: how can computers help composers work with noisy acoustic sounds with precision? This question is particularly germane when writing for string quartet, as string instruments offer a wealth of noise-based 'extended techniques' such as muted string sounds, col legno sounds, and percussive sounds made on the body of the instruments. While these sounds are sonically intriguing, these sounds are difficult to quantify as musical resources and challenging to deploy with spectral precision, especially when scoring them as superimposed elements.

To approach this problem, AudioGuide's concatenative algorithm was extended using ideas from the research of Damien Tardieu to aid the composer in selecting mixtures of recorded noise sounds through algorithmically estimating the sum of their spectral characteristics. Using these algorithms, the program can approximate a target sound by searching for the best mixture of noise sounds from countless combinatorial possibilities. These methods are now part of AudioGuide's public distribution.

Program Note

This is the first in a series of pieces that I intend to write to explore an imagined physics based on the behaviour of fluids. Ideas such as turbulence, disruptions and ripples, surface tension, and the interaction of dissimilar liquids inspire both the gestural language and the formal design of this composition. While the electronic and acoustic sounds often share certain articulative tendencies and a similar sense of gestural elasticity, they rarely fuse together as one. Rather they behave much more like oil and water - two distinct entities which share a diaphanous boundary, inherently responsive to each other, yet stubbornly separate and divisible. Always filling each other's voids, pulling when pushed and pushing when pulled.

This piece is warmly dedicated to Roger Reynolds, who taught me, among other things, that the act of searching for words to describe what you do invariably connects your music to the world around you. I would like to thank the following researchers whose insights and ideas have inspired and enabled my work: Norbert Schnell, Gilbert Nouno, Joachim Goßmann, Arshia Cont, Diemo Schwarz and Philippe Esling.


Recording Credits: The Arditti String Quartet: Irvine Arditti, Ashot Sarkissjan, Ralf Ehlers and Lucas Fels

Open Source Software Links

Audioguide homepage; Audioguide github page