SECRET ANIMALS (2018)

~ for cello and live electronics


A number of so-called ‘Flat Earth’ theorists believe that in the outer regions of the world there are new fauna that the government is committed to keeping confidential. Though the exact whereabouts of such beasts must remain subject to speculation, this piece imagines the untamed roars of these secret animals.

The score for SECRET ANIMALS is a video viewed in a virtual reality headset. Material appears in a 180° spread in front of the performer. Instructions to the performer appear as ‘constellations’ of material, whose appearance is broadly influenced by star charts. The piece articulates a general crescendo and decrescendo, moving from initial quiet gestures only on the lowest string, towards a more chaotic texture, before returning to the lowest string with the nebulous harmonic-based material of the opening. The move from a single string towards gestures across all four is drawn attention to through scordatura. The IV and III strings are tuned down a semitone, whilst II is tuned up a quarter tone, giving a tuning of B/F#/D quarter sharp/A. The live electronics functions using two inputs: a microphone attached to the cello, and a webcam that is attached to the headset the score is viewed in. It points down towards the fingerboard of the instrument. The audio inputs are processed using ring modulation, delay and transposition; whilst the video input provides live tracking data that controls the intensities of these sonic modulations. The performer’s engagement with the video score is thus directly linked to the electronic element of the piece. Head movements control which instructions a performer can view in the video score; but they also affect tracking data, which in turn affects the live processing. Though there is a degree of chaos in the specific result of this interaction (e.g. the pitch of the transposition or the oscillators within the ring modulation) it always falls within tight constraints, so that I can exercise compositional curation whilst encouraging performer freedom.

It was premiered by Deni Teo and Nicholas Moroz on the 16th May 2018 at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford.