Folly (2012) for voice flute, live electronics, fixed media and wine glasses


Folly (2012) is one a conceptually-linked series of works which investigate the physical principles behind the sound production in a particular class of musical instrument, and the extension of these principles into the virtual domain. In this case the voice flute (a baroque tenor recorder in D) is used to probe the contiguity between music (as sound and air movement) and tactility which preoccupies me in my written research (e.g. Waters, 2012), and by extension of the proxemic zones proposed by Hall (1963): intimate, personal, local and public space. In a manner which, perhaps consciously, echoes Birtwistle’s sequential ‘construction’ of song from fragmentary utterance in Nenia: The Death of Orpheus, Folly constructs a trajectory from sounds which operate only on a visceral and tactile level - sounding out the physical space and establishing responses to input which test that space, through the exploration of the most basic functions of a tube of air, gradually accreting cultural musical baggage and ‘higher-level’ musical functions, to a point where, as in Rotary/Lateral, my previous composition, musicking becomes self-referral.


Folly is, therefore, a sort of ‘chronological’ journey through music’s capacities to mean. Starting with musical material which evokes the tactile, haptic and sonic, pitch differentiation and matching are introduced, and pitch control emerges, initially as simple sequential removal of fingers from the tube of the instrument. Repetitions and permutations are discovered (out of which grows ‘melody’), with sophistications of the fingering effecting ‘glides’ and ‘beats’, these becoming simultaneously ‘expressivities’ of articulation and references to other musics, for example, Irish traditional or baroque repertoire. Functional harmony follows, out of which (after a brief reminder of the material/physical origins of the work - and of music) emerges the Folia - the generic chord sequence of the 16th-18th centuries, over which generations of musicians have developed their improvisatory skills. This manifestation of musical ‘culture’ in the ‘highest’ (including, deliberately, the discreditedly canonical) sense, performs the function of acknowledging both music’s capacity for reference to itself and its own history, and - just as significantly - the capacity of musicians to perpetually reinstantiate it in the present.


The sardonic title Folly was chosen not least in acknowledgement that there is perhaps inevitably something doomed and naïve about loading such speculative conceptual baggage onto such a short piece of music. The work was premiered by Férdia Stone-Davis in the Sonic Arts concert series at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, in April 2012. In addition to the (broadly philosophical and cognitive) issues which inform the work it also grows out of a period of intensive collaboration with the performer at the University of Göttingen, therefore continuing another research theme evident in recent works which are designed to be specific to individual performers - investigating various levels of compositional fixity in which the performer has considerable (and varying) responsibility - in an attempt to make work which counters the possibility of ‘generic’ performance.

A recording of a live performance of Folly at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast, in May 2013 can be found below. The performers are Ferdia Stone-Davis (voice flute), Simon Waters (live electronics) and Michael Speers and Dave Stockard (wine glasses). The recording was supervised by Craig Jackson.