Recently, Stacey Chou and Joanne Wheeler from the In Radiance flute quintet commissioned a new piece from me. Dedicated to Timothy Chou, Across the Synapse was premiered at the 2016 National Flute Association Convention in San Diego, CA. The Friends of the Flutes Foundation sponsored the performance. So, what is a synapse and how do you go across it?
In Radiance is a genre-bending flute quintet for the modern age. Although each member of the quintet occasionally met each other in person, the ensemble exists partially because of current technology. Between the five lovely ladies, each member seems to live across five different corners of the US. Through email, video chatting, and social media they can convene, rehearse, and conduct themselves as an ensemble. With computers and iPhones, 1000s of miles dissolve into bytes of data, and they can transmit ideas instantaneously. A synapse is a junction between nerve cells where chemical messages are passed from on to another. The action in this minute gap gives life to our ideas and experiences. (I hope neuroscientists can forgive my over-simplification.) Instead of a synaptic cleft, the In Radiance quintet uses their technology to pass ideas to each other.
In the piece, the flutes send musical ideas from one side to another. For live settings, performers are instructed to position themselves in a wide "U" formation to gain as much distance from each other as the stage allows. The bass flute should be centered with a duo of concert and alto flutes one side a duplicate on the other. This staging should enhance the stereo effect on stage. Hopefully, with the opening musical statement, audiences can hear the transmission from the first flute to the second flute. With Across the Synapse, I wanted to create a chamber within the ensemble where ideas can pass back and forth and swirl around.
Across the Synapse follows a traditional ABA' form. The ideas in the outer "A" sections fluidly move around. By contrast, the middle "B" section presents stillness with long melodies over slow moving harmonies. Here, I decided to include beat-boxing to add to the timbral palette of the piece. In a piece where much of the music sounds amorphous and textural, it's nice to have a moment of something concrete. Also, I thought In Radiance would like to have a groove in their piece since a couple of the members like EDM.
Perhaps one day I will have the funds and means to record this piece in a studio to create a real stereo recording. It might be interesting to compare the experience of listening to Across the Synapse in a concert hall and listening to a recording through headphones. Instead of ideas going from stage left to stage right, the sounds would pass from left ear to right ear. Until then, please enjoy the great live performance recorded by In Radiance and visit their site to support their projects!