ON CEREBRAL DOMINANCE


for flute, violin, viola, bass clarinet, piano and vibraphone. 1987. 7 minutes. Score and parts available through the composer.
 


The medical term On Cerebral Dominance refers to the specialized way each half of our brain operates and the dominion it has over certain bodily and mental functions. The left is analytical, compartmentalizing and with attention to detail while the right is holistic, intuitive and with a uncanny ability for seeing or creating patterns. During the composition of On Cerebral Dominance, I was becoming aware of two general influences at odds with each other in my own work. The American and the European (rather narrowly labeled and naively represented in the piece with the jazz-like and the baroque-like idioms used throughout). Their relationship has been dynamic, strained at times, but never completely at rest. They have been kept separate and yet integrated in the same way that the two hemispheres of our brain (contradictory and complementary at the same time) perform one composite function without completely understanding each other. Think of the two musical idioms in this piece as the two halves of the brain: one tonal, baroque-like, the other atonal (actually twelve-tone), jazz-like. Each of them negates the other and downplays the other's achievements. When the tonal side makes an attempt at minimalism, the other side dismisses it, comparing it to a malfunctioning turntable stylus which skips constantly. Similarly, when the atonal side makes formal presentations of the twelve-tone row, the opponent laughs victoriously because the resultant vertical sonorities are in fact triadic tonal harmonies. This split across styles is accompanied by a timbral split across the ensemble resulting in two instrumental groups, the quartet of 'sustain' instruments (flute, violin, viola. bass clarinet) and the duo of 'percussive' ones (piano and vibraphone). In performance trying to stay on track while the music crosses these dividing lines can be a hair-raising experience. From past performances of On Cerebral Dominance, I have come to the conclusion that, while a conductor might be useful during the early rehearsals of the piece, he/she becomes a hindrance when the ensemble picks up speed and plays up to tempo. It is much preferable if the musicians stay on track by listening attentively to each other rather than rely on visual cues from a third party; there is just not enough time to respond accurately to such cues. Enjoy!
 


Premiere performance: August 8, 1988 by an ensemble consisting of Suzanne Shulman, flute; Marie Berrard, violin; Douglas Perry, viola; Robert Stevenson, bass clarinet; Christina Petrowska, piano; and Beverley Johnston, percussion. Demoticon Theatron, Volos, Greece.
 

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