Premiere of “Asymptotic Flux”, inaugural performance of the [Switch~ Ensemble]

Last Thursday was the premiere of my latest work “Asymptotic Flux”, for amplified bass clarinet, violin, viola, & cello as well as the inaugural performance the [Switch~ Ensemble], with Fausto Romitelli’s “Amok Koma”.  The [Switch~ Ensemble] is a dedicated electroacoustic ensemble of flexible instrumentation (7-14 performers), the first of its kind here at Eastman, and co-founded by Christopher Chandler, Stylianos Dimou, and myself.  As the conductor of this ensemble, it has given me a fantastic opportunity to gain a great deal of conducting experience in a very short period of time, especially with repertoire that I am very passionate about!  I’m additionally working with Ossia, the Graduate Composers’ Sinfonietta, and Eastman’s Musica Nova Ensemble, as Brad Lubman‘s assistant conductor, with repertoire including works by Boulez, Carter, Zorn, Abrahamsen, Lindberg, and others, as well as faculty and student works.  Working with Brad has been fantastic, and I feel like my improvement over the last few months has been quite drastic!

“Asymptotic Flux” is a work that I am very excited about, and it will be performed again here at Eastman on November 12th, and later in Philadelphia by ensemble39 on December 7th at the 3rd Annual Melos New Music Concert, with a series of recording sessions for our upcoming CD as well!  I’ve included the program notes for “Asymptotic Flux” below, for those of you who may be interested.


Speaking of CDs, today the the 2nd Annual Melos New Music Concert CD was released on iTunes, and is available here as a digital download, or as a physical CD via http://www.melosmusic.com

As you can imagine, each of these projects has kept me quite busy over the course of the last few months!  I’m looking forward now to starting work on my first Percussion Quartet, being written for Iktus Percussion in NYC, and over the winter months I will be writing a concerto for two horns, working with Jeff Nelsen and Michael Walker, who will come out to Rochester in April to premiere the work with the Eastman Graduate Composers’ Sinfonietta!  Now, back to work!

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“Asymptotic Flux: First Study in Entropy” was written over a three month period while traveling and hitchhiking throughout Europe, surrounding time spent attending at the IRCAM Manifeste Festival in Paris and the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt.  As one might imagine, composing with pencil and paper while constantly on the move can be rather cumbersome, having only short periods of time available to focus, and often taking place in awkward workspaces like cafes, restaurants, hostels, and the apartments of my various hosts. Most of these environments were quite busy and chaotic spaces.  This situation presented a challenge after having spent most of my compositional activity to date in an academic setting with a piano or other musical equipment readily available.

My original intent when I set out was to explore the timbral possibilities of the bass clarinet, utilizing a variety of techniques to produce complex soundscapes and microtonal sonorities that would provide germinal material for the work while unifying the ensemble.  In addition to the sonorities that are worked out through sampling and spectral analysis of multiphonics, additional pitch content is generated through an acoustic analogue to a process known in electronic music as “single-sideband modulation,” resulting in a series of combination tones made by adding two frequencies (for instance, a bass clarinet tone and an open scordatura string of the cello), to one another, producing a series that grows exponentially (i.e. 100Hz+200Hz=300Hz, 200Hz+300Hz=500Hz, etc.).

The title comes from an arguably conceptual device: the low E-flat that simultaneously pervades the work and is non-existent.  I imagine that the ensemble is always reaching towards this E-flat as a point of centricity, but never quite arrive; analogous to an asymptote, as it approaches infinity.  Entropy can be described as the “measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system,” or the “tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.” (source: American Heritage Dictionary).  Taking some poetic liberties in reducing the scientific definition of “entropy” to simply a unit of measurement for chaos, one might say that this work conveys a state of high entropy in music, in stark contrast both to my previous work and to the classical tradition itself. This is a characteristic that I feel reflects not only specific elements of the compositional process, but also the result of the technical demands made on the performers, as well as my state of mind throughout the creation of this work.

– Jason Thorpe Buchanan

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