for clarinet and tape. 1995. Commissioned by Jean-Guy Boisvert with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Circa 20 minutes. Score/part and DAT tape available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Compressed Finale .ETF file click here of the entire piece
(ZIP file size: 67.1Kb; uncompressed file size: 338Kb).

The idea for Melisma came to me when I heard an old recording of a famous taqsim, a slow non-rhythmic improvisatory piece in Greek folk music by Tassos Chalkias, one of Greece's prominent folk clarinetists. Similar to the klezmer style of clarinet playing, this tradition hardly ever allows the sound to stay 'in pitch' for any length of time, demanding instead nearly continuous pitch shifts and timbre modulations on most of the notes in a melody. Another characteristic of the Greek folk clarinet sound is the rather pronounced nasal quality of the chalumeau register where dramatic transitions from soft, dark timbres to piercing, forte ones are routine. Melisma begins with the Chalkias excerpt. My own music takes off at measure 12 and frequently returns to make short references to the original.

As the title suggests, Melisma should be performed in a free, flowing manner, uninterrupted by any sense of strict time (the last twelve measures in the piece are an exception and should be played with utmost precision.) Where the music suggests the need for organizing the material into beats and larger groups of beats thereof, note beamings and accents are used to indicate such groupings. In such instances the performer should follow his/her internal clock, and his/her understanding of the interpretive requirements of the music. For purposes of indicating relative proportions I have inserted broken barlines approximately every eight quarter notes. The performer must see to it that the music is not similarly broken down into small fragments, but maintains its character as an evolving, continuous and uninterrupted melody: everything in the piece, including the improvisatory passages, must evolve as a natural and logical consequence of that which precedes it. The fermatas should be unusually long, especially those over rests, creating a pervading sense of timelessness.

The clarinetist should be amplified. If signal processing is available, a very long hall ambiance should be added to the instrument. The drone, a low D just bellow the bass clef, could be produced by a compatible timbre on a synthesizer or digital sampler, the volume controlled by the performer by means of a foot pedal. If circumstances allow it, alternative means of producing a drone may be explored. Four performers of identical bass instruments (four bassoons, four tubas, four double basses etc.) could be positioned at the four corners of the hall, the low D drone passing from one performer to the next in a continuous circular manner. If that option is explored, each drone player should start their note at pianissimo, gradually rise to a forte and then gradually fall back to a pianissimo again. The next player starts this process when the previous one has reached the peak level on his/her drone note. A tape operator is necessary to cue the DAT tape in at measure 63. The operator may also control the amount of ambiance fed to the instrument in real time, boosting the effect on long sustained notes, especially ones preceding long rests.

Premiere performance by Jean Guy Boisvert at a cross-Canada tour, October - November 1995.


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