Earlier this year, Colchester New Music called for miniature scores for solo flute. Being a complete contrast from the other works I was working on at the time (the requiem, clarinet sonata and a work for viols), I thought it would be both an interesting challenge, and form a nice contrast with everything else I was working on!
The first stage was to set out my aims for the piece. Nancy Ruffer, the performer leading the masterclass (and subsequent concert) is not only a stunning performer, but also a master of extended techniques on the flute, and thus it made sense to exploit them in the work. However, I quickly made the decision that although I wanted to write a contemporary piece that incorporated such techniques, I wanted to ensure that it would be accessible to a wide audience. Despite the myriad of extended techniques available, they are only really heard by the more contemporary, and arguably academic audiences. This isn’t necessarily because of their particular qualities, but mainly because the type of music their integrated into often isn’t particularly accessible to a mainstream audience. I also wanted to make sure the extended techniques weren’t too overwhelming, again to ensure accessibility.
Successful exploitation of these techniques, therefore, was the challenge. Although I explored several ideas, I struggled to find anything that felt ‘right’ (although a couple of the sketches I made have been subsequently snapped up for other purposes!). I then remembered a concert I attended a few years ago, where a selection of instrumentalists were presenting a showcase of their talents, including a flautist. One of the pieces she performed was based upon the rhythms of the railway. It featured predominantly extended techniques but was written very effectively, and performed amazingly – and was simply enthralling. At that point, I realised I needed a strong rhythmic idea in order to create the piece I wanted. From that point, Perkusi developed very quickly.
The piece itself
The title, Perkusi, is Indonesian for percussive, which describes the character of this short solo flute work perfectly. A myriad of techniques including slap tonguing and detailed articulation are used to evoke drum and jazz rhythms, added to alongside a lively rubato feel and an improvised section. Uneven numbers of bars help add to the mood, and create an unstable feeling.
After a jazzy yet traditional opening, the piece rapidly heads into the main section, mimicking a rhythmic drum beat. The tonality shifts between major and octatonic variations of the melodic line, with extended techniques such as breathy tones and key slaps adding to the quirky nature of the piece. The second section is lighter than the first, featuring more relaxed rhythms, simultaneous singing and playing, and a section in free tempo. The piece then shifts in tonality, before revisiting the opening section.
Perkusi was performed at a Colchester New Music workshop at firstspace, Colchester, by Nancy Ruffer, and again in CNM’s Crossing Borders concert at St. Botolph’s Church, Colchester, on Saturday 22nd October 2011. Many thanks to Nancy for both wonderful performances. The recording below is from the workshop, merely because the extended techniques come across better in my opinion, due to the acoustic and where the recording device was placed.
Perkusi can be purchased online as a downloadable PDF from my Payhip site.