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World Premiere Wednesday: Lisa Illean

The latest in our series of World Premiere Wednesday performances, bringing you the world premiere of a new Sinfonietta Short performed by one of our players, live online.

Lisa Illean Tiding
Bryce Dessner Garcia Counterpoint

Huw Davies electric guitar

Programme notes


to drift with or as if with the tide
to rise and fall like the tide

Tiding is the first in a new collection of pieces dealing with elemental patterns. It is in many ways a line study, with each undulating phrase being both a melodic wave and a swell of sustained tones, accumulating and dissipating across the length of the phrase.

I am very interested in exploring this threshold: where a collection of notes is at once both a line and a sonority. While working, I was reminded how ‘drawing water’ is often a process of drawing many individual lines, which in total—and from a distance—form a visual surface. While my initial sketches for Tiding were for a multi-layered piece, working with electric guitar also offered the opportunity to explore closely these ideas in a single line, using a very minimal set-up. To my ears, it is occasionally as if the unadorned lyricism of some early lute music is freshly abstracted in a new medium, and to new ends.

As suggested by the title, the sound floods and ebbs. Transience – in both the production and perception of sound – has always moved me. Growing up, I spent countless evenings and early mornings lying on the beach listening to the ocean. And nearly as many hypnotic hours listening to the world sounding through water, my head half-submerged, patterns of distant chattering mingling with the periodic rubbing of the sea. This environmental mormorando, effortlessly yet unpredictably floating in and out of perception, is never too far from any work I do with sound. 

Like of most of my work, Tiding uses non-tempered tunings. To achieve this, each guitar string is retuned to an overtone of an 11 hertz ground fundamental: the 6th, 10th, 14th, 21st, 22nd and 25th partials. It took me a long time to find the tunings—the right ‘colour’—for this piece. Finding this was so important because in a way it is a monochrome piece: each phrase is a subtly different shade of the same hue. 

As something of an afterthought, I included an image by Christiane Baumgartner—Deep Water (2013)—alongside the score material. I like her work very much, and in particular how this image evokes the perception of a liquid form through very precise means. This tension really interests me. I think—or hope—this might relate to the tunings and especially to the rhythms in Tiding, which aim to create something aqueous and fluid through their subtle detail. Lisa Illean

Garcia Counterpoint

This work for electric guitar and pre-recorded track is based on the transcription of a Jerry Garcia solo and inspired by Steve Reich. Commissioned by Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam for Cross-Linx 2015.

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Published: 26 Apr 2021