Returning to the Wallpaper Music series after 13 years, I wondered how I could extend it, when I had already altered the sound of the piano beyond recognition in volumes 1-3. I knew I wanted to create a really unusual sound, and to create a durational experience that would stretch one’s sense of the passing of time.
Earlier in the year, I had been working closely with pianist Margaret Leng Tan (long term collaborator of John Cage and George Crumb), creating the music for her one woman show “Dragon ladies don’t weep.” One of the elements we worked on together was bowed piano, and Margaret generously showed me her techniques and methods. During the COVID 19 lockdown I had plenty of time in my home studio to further experiment, constructing and practicing with my own bows, and this became my focus for WM4.
In Wallpaper Music 4, I use 11 “bows” (actually rosined strands of fishing line) to build up accumulating layers of tones across the piano – a giant, pulsing chord. There is an organic quality to the sound; within each tone is a detailed world of grain, texture, shifting harmonics and strange undertones. I introduced a slow breathing cycle into the sustaining notes, using an arithmetical pattern – 6 bows / breath / 5 bows / breath / 4 bows / breath / 3 bows / breath, 2 bows / breath, and then the reverse. I used prime numbers to offset the lengths of the rhythmic cycles, ensuring that each would be always out of sync with the others, creating constantly new relationships.
In the same way that one has to “look away” to see certain constellations of stars, or to see dark patches in the Milky Way, one can “listen away” – or deflect one’s attention away from the individual tones and surface details, in order to hear the shifting aural patterns of overtones, undertones, phasing, and modulation of sounds.
I’m very grateful to Brisbane Festival director Louise Bezzina and series curator Lawrence English for commissioning this work.