Instrumentation: two flutes, two clarinets, two cellos, two pianos (or piano four-hands)
Duration: 11 minutes
Commissioned by: Dinosaur Annex
World Premiere: October 28, 2012. Dinosaur Annex. Boston, MA
Live Performance by Eco Ensemble. May 12, 2014
Alter Ego was commissioned by the Dinosaur Annex new music ensemble to be performed by members of the group playing alongside talented high school students, each playing the same instrument as their professional counterpart. In the piece I set these two groups against each other by giving them very different musical material. The professionals play a noisy, percussive array of contemporary techniques, while the students play in a more traditional manner, elaborating on an underlying chord progression. This gives each instrument a sort of dual identity, able to express itself in multiple ways simultaneously.
The piece as a whole also has a “secret identity”, as its underlying structure is influenced by Javanese gamelan by making use of the concept of “irama” in which a piece is based on a single melody that can be stretched to double, or quadruple its original length. This basic melody is elaborated by instruments that play faster embellishments and patterns based on the underlying melody notes. A change in irama is accomplished by gradually slowing down until the ensemble reaches approximately half the tempo, at which time the elaborating instruments will jump to a tempo twice as fast. This creates the illusion of the music maintaining a steady tempo, as it simultaneously slows down dramatically. The same effect can also happen in reverse, with the melody becoming twice as fast. In Alter Ego the underlying melody is conceived as a cyclic chord progression, like that found in a jazz or pop song, that then expands and contracts accordingly.