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by Deborah Walker

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Pharus Novae 13:05


“Starflux" (2011) started with a particular way of playing the cello : the instrument is played horizontally in front of the player. Two gestures are repeated: one intermittent, the other continuous. The right hand strikes the four strings near the nut with the index finger. The left hand makes a very slow glissando from the nut to the bridge, with light pressure from each finger on a different string. This way the strings vibrate continuously resonating their partials, which change as the left hand slides. The resulting sound is composed of a series of strikes and their resonance. Although the mechanism of the piece and its gestures seem automatic and repetitive, the performer is invited to listen to the quality of the appearance and disappearance of the partials, using micro-variations to maintain the resonance. The right hand controls the percussive intensity and the contact angle of the index finger on the strings. The left hand controls the speed, the pressure and the spacing of the fingers.

Music has often used the harmonic spectrum as a musical model in its ascending or descending order. But the topographic order has been used less often, that is, the order in which the overtones appear along the string. As every overtone corresponds to a fraction of the string, this order is determined by the sequence of fractions. Following this logic, the sounds are not ordered from lowest to highest pitches, and their intervals vary. For example, using only denominators from 2 to 16, the beginning of the sequence is 1/16, 1/15, 1/14, 1/13, 1/12, 1/11, 1/10, 1/9, 1/8, 2/15, 1/7, 2/13, 1/6, 2/11, etc. This logic is complex enough to generate a series of sounds with an interval ratio that cannot be easily predicted by the ear.

In addition, Starflux overlays four different spectra, one for each string, which advance in parallel with a slight offset creating a kind of canon. The interaction between the resonances of the harmonics and the haunting rhythm brings out the expressiveness of a sound, which is expressed only through its natural components. Although the piece only consists of harmonic series played in their linear order on the string, the musical outcome produces an expressive discourse which transcends the physics of sound.

In a performance of the piece only some of the partials resonate, some others find it harder to emerge, and in general the amplitude decreases in the higher tones, which correspond to smaller fractions of the string. I made "Banda Starflux" (2015) to find out what would be heard if a larger number of overtones were audible. This piece is a synthetic simulation of the acoustic version, in which all the overtones of each string - up to the 16th - are played using sine waves. In this version the canon by perfect fifths appears clearly at the beginning with a descending melody, starting from the C string, then G, D and finally A. The duration of each tone depends on the corresponding fraction, larger denominators corresponding to shorter notes.

The idea that interested me was to find expressiveness in a pre-existent model. This concept of finding music, instead of creating it was suggested to me by my dear friend the composer Tom Johnson.

The third track adds an additional layer of interpretation and rewriting to this album, being the result of a post-production treatment by producer Emanuele Battisti. It is a collaborative track, specifically conceived for the “In the room" album series, and also a celebration of a long-standing friendship.


released June 12, 2020

Track 1 - composed, performed and recorded by Deborah Walker
Track 2 - composed and recorded by Deborah Walker
Track 3 - additional recordings by Emanuele Battisti

Produced by Deborah Walker and Emanuele Battisti

Mastering by Emanuele Battisti

Artwork © 2020 Paolo Cavinato : fragment from "In the room" (drawing and computer graphics)

Catalogue number : EL24


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