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, with the generous support from the Friends of Flutes Foundation. So, what is a synapse and how do you go across it?
In Radiance is a genre-bending flute quintet for the modern age. Each member of the quintet lives across five different corners of the US. Since the quintet cannot frequently meet in person, the ensemble depends on modern technology to operate. 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. Symbolically, the screens on their computers and smartphones represent the synaptic cleft where information exchange occurs for In Radiance.
In the piece, the individual flutes pass musical ideas to each other from one side of the stage to the other. For live settings, performers are instructed to position themselves in a wide "U" formation with the bass flute in the center to gain as much distance from each other as the stage allows. 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. In Across the Synapse, I wanted to create an acoustic 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!