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The Onset of Turbulance (1998)

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Solo electric guitar and sampling unit (one or two performers)
Duration 8 minutes
Premiere 9th May 1998, Alan Thomas, Huddersfield Electric Spring Festival, Huddersfield, U.K.
Programme note
The title, and starting point for some of the formal procedures in this piece, came from fluid mechanics - the study of how liquids or gases behave under various conditions - and in particular a collection of papers called Dynamical Chaos, published by the Royal Society. The particular (strange?) attraction of chaos theory for me might best be explained through the words of one of the contributors, E. A. Spiegel:

"...the theory of chaos makes processes like intermittency and the appearance of coherent structures mathematically accessible..."

In other words chaos, or turbulence, includes not only the predictable absence of discernible structures, but also, paradoxically, implicitly enables the construction of formal structures.

In The Onset of Turbulence, the process of movement towards a highly chaotic state - together with the concomitat development of structures, is overlaid by other processes - in particular, a sampling unit is used to take 'snap shots' of the instrumental activity at particular points throughout the piece. These repeated samples then function as references, sometimes recalling particular musical materials, sometimes reiterating pitch references (the guitar is constantly being transposed up and down using the tremolo arm). These reference points (or pedals) in turn, link to form a framework within which the narrative activity of the piece takes place.

The instrumental material is heavily influenced by studies I made of playing techniques associated with urban blues. The idiomatic devices I identified became the basis for models describing particular strands of musical material. The idea is not one of quotation, but rather to use the raw expressive techniques (and in particular, those unencumbered by notational or theoretical constraints) to form new, still expressive materials.

This page was last updated on 7th April 2008