My piece nacreous is a meditation on the final chorale from Bach’s St John Passion. The title is derived from nacre, more commonly known as mother of pearl: an irridescent substance secreted by certain molusks, building up in layers to line their shells, and sometimes form pearls. While Bach’s original chorale is present throughout the piece, it is mostly buried within extra layers of notes which I have added around the harmonies to sculpt denser chords, as if building up platelets of nacre.
In addition to extending Bach’s harmonies, I moulded the chorale into the piece in three other ways:
1) By slowing it down significantly, I was interested in working within the territory of deep listening. I sense an equality in the form of a chorale: in the way all the parts breathe together, and mostly share the same rhythms and dynamics; and in the balance of importance between the melody of the hymn and Bach’s harmonisation of it. For me, this brings to mind Pauline Oliveros’ work on deep listening and global attention, approaches which invite us to form an equally deep and intense connection with all sound. I hope that the stillness of nacreous can foster deep listening in both the audience and performers.
2. I changed the rhythmic proportions. This process was mostly intuitively sensed, except for a passage that alternates between dotted minims and minims, with minim rests in between each iteration of this rhythmic motif. Combined with the fragile, almost misty timbre of col legno tratto, I hoped that this would give the section a sense of mirroring breathing in and out. This could act as a subtle nod to the sonic meditation practices which are closely connected with Oliveros’ technique of deep listening.
3) nacreous explores silence more extensively than much of my previous work. I hope that this can allow the spaciousness of the sounds to spread into the openings between them, inviting listeners to sense into each fragment, and building their expectations around what might follow after the silence.