(my friend Dave has been hosting Q&As around concerts at the PSK; this is from 12 May 2014)
EC: Well of Whales started as a physical gesture I imagined and wanted to see: two hands at the piano passing over and under each other. I imagined the music they they might make: two similar patterns on separate planes, one in the foreground and one in the background, the separation of planes softening the clash of two harmonies, something pungent and bittersweet. I modeled it in Blooms, a composing environment that I am, slowly, developing for myself in the computer language Supercollider. I decided the two planes, a sort of figure and shadow, would have a strict pitch relationship — what Quinn calls ‘the chord trick’ (a kind of harmonic modulation via shared interval vector), but would be articulated at different rates and orders, by a kind of arpeggiator. Then I turned to the keyboard, improvising chords and listening to their shadows. Especially beautiful pairs, I saved, ordered, linked. In this way I wrote a kind of quilt of superimposed patterns, always ear-chosen but algorithmically animated, connected by a kind of pivot, where the foreground and background take turns shifting to new chords for smooth transitions.
That became a piano etude (#6), which I later arranged for clarinet, cello and guitar (Marcel, at the next PSK!) and added Charlotte, singing a nursery rhyme I wrote, Well of Whales.
It’s exactly the balance between beautiful and dispassionate that I look for, but usually don’t have the restraint to write (my vice is to phrase everything, at every level — expressionism). I let the computer maintain the discipline, and explored.
Sometimes a piece just feels like a good well — a place to stay, set up camp, see how much water there is — and this is one of them. I feel like it’s a miracle that I wrote it, and so I want to live with it and learn from it as long as it will teach me. The best way to learn from music is to rewrite it, so I imagined it for a larger ensemble. That’s the the third movement of Three Wells.
The other two were written to complement it, to find an equilibrium for the whole.