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Guilty pleasures : for mixed instrumental ensemble

by John Peterson (2007)

Work Overview

Film music and popular music, are among the two most dominant influences on my own creativity, and permeate many aspects of my compositions. As a composer, I am interested in taking the influences from these vernacular forms and combining them with aspects of, sometimes more traditional, compositional techniques. I often consider the works that emerge from this process as my personal 'guilty pleasures': hence the title of this current work.
Also, much of my recent music has been influenced by aspects of duality (male and female, light and dark, etc.), so I was attracted to the dual nature of the two words of the title itself: 'guilty', with its negative connotations, and 'pleasure', with its obviously more positive connotations.
There are, therefore, two movements in the work: the first contains evocative music, of an almost 'cinematic' quality, that revels in the sensual nature of the 'sound' of music; the second is more abstract and explores the more earthy aspects of a melodic chromaticism influenced by the 'blues', propulsive bass lines, and dance-like rhythms.
The percussion instruments used in each movement also adds to the dual nature of the work. In order to create a particular 'sound world' for each movement, I have chosen to use two different percussion set-ups. In the first movement, only metallic percussion (cymbal, tam tam (gong), triangle, and vibraphone) are used; while the second movement makes use of wooden
instruments (marimba, wood block) and various drums (whose shells are made of wood).
The first movement, The Sounding Sea (Beyond the Ninth Wave), was inspired, in part, by the following extract from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Milton:
"I pace the sounding sea-beach and behold
How the voluminous billows roll and run,
Upheaving and subsiding, while the sun
Shines through their sheeted emerald far unrolled,
And the ninth wave, slow gathering fold by fold
All its loose-flowing garments into one,
Plunges upon the shore, and floods the dun
Pale reach of sands, and changes them to gold."
The music is in three large sections, the first of which attempts to evoke aspects of the poem itself: the ebb and flow of the sea, and the approach of the 'ninth wave'. The 'ninth wave' is a phrase that has several meanings: mariners often use it to refer to the largest of a group or series of waves; and in Celtic mythology the 'ninth wave' marks the boundaries of the mortal world, beyond which lies a magical land where the soul journeys. The second and third sections of this movement represent my interpretation of the aftermath of the 'ninth wave', whether it be arrival at a magical land, or merely the gradual dissipation of the energy inherent in the ninth wave itself. In both instances, the ebb and flow of the sea remain as a tangible presence, although the mpact is much more subdued than in the opening section. The second section is built around a cyclical chord progression, played prominently on the vibraphone and piano, while the third section returns to the harmonies, and some of the melodic ideas, of the first section but in a quite different context.
The second movement, A Wilderness of Monkeys, is more abstract in nature and does not attempt to evoke any particular images. The title itself comes from a phrase in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice but, taken out of its original context, its meaning here is meant to be deliberately vague and rather ambiguous: I don't want to be prescriptive but rather provide a phrase that may mean something - or nothing much at all: it is, then, somewhat open to interpretation (or maybe it is about monkeys after all!). The music is quite fast and very rhythmic throughout, making use of relatively short and largely self-contained, 'blocks' of musical material that are juxtaposed in various ways, often producing sudden shifts in mood. The exploration of additive rhythmic processes, whereby small rhythmic cells consisting of groups of either two and three rhythmic units are added together in a number of ways to create much larger rhythmic cells, dominates much of the music here. The overall effect is of a dance-like pulse where the main downbeats seem to be slightly irregularly-placed. This can be heard in the opening section of the movement, and thence on several levels throughout the rest of the piece.

Work Details

Year: 2007

Instrumentation: Flute/piccolo, clarinet in B flat (doubling bass clarinet in B flat), percussion (1 player), piano, 2 violins, viola, cello.

Duration: 20 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: I. The Sounding Sea (Beyond the Ninth Wave)  --  II. A Wilderness of Monkeys

Commission note: Commissioned for Australia Ensemble.. Commissioned with funds from the Albert H. Maggs Composition Award of 2005.

First performance: by Australia Ensemble — 28 Apr 07. Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2005 Albert H Maggs Composition Award First Prize John Peterson


Performances of this work

12 Oct 2019: at Australia Ensemble: Guilty Pleasures (Sir John Clancy Auditorium). Featuring Australia Ensemble.

19 Oct 2017: at Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble (Verbrugghen Hall). Featuring SCM Modern Music Ensemble.

28 Apr 07: Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales. Featuring Australia Ensemble.

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