A fragile peace (2013)

Ángel Molinos, bass clarinet, Otto Tolonen, guitars, Juhani Nuorvala, electronics, Jukka Viiri, sound processing (excerpts)

bass clarinet, 2 scordatura guitars (one player), live electronics/fixed media
20 min.

Every once in while, you get asked to write for a combination of instruments so bizarre that they shouldn’t even be in the same room, let alone the same piece. A duo for bass clarinet and acoustic guitar is about as weird and problematic as it gets, and my first instinct was to refuse. But the lure of an ensemble with few (if any) precedents, of a completely open field, was a powerful one. The title as such doesn’t have much to do with the music, referring more to the potential for discord and imbalance implied by the combination rather than any real conflict.

Rather, my goal was to create a mutually supportive, easygoing back-and-forth, one that brings the instruments as close together sonically as possible and bridges the huge gap – dynamic, timbral, intonational and textural – that exists between them, which meant resorting to some extremes. The guitar part requires two instruments, both retuned to different versions of the bass clarinet’s standing key of B flat. At the outset, the bass clarinet intones a slowly evolving, chant-like microtonal melody in its highest register, playing as quietly as possible, its power contained, while the guitar provides a static harmonic impulse for its long-breathed phrases. The music gradually works itself into a groove, still predominantly quiet, which grows into a more equal, bluesy exchange, rarely straying from the diatonic mode in which the piece began. After a field of minimalist pulses that gradually builds to a climax, the second guitar returns to the microtonal world of the opening, this time bowed, with the bass clarinet using its full length as an overtone resonator. Here the electronics kick in, amplifying and refracting the improvised riffs of the duo, binding the two instruments together in a kind of singularity. For the first time, the bass clarinet can truly let loose, the amplified guitar finally able to join in at high volume. The piece ends with a brief return to the opening tune and a long dissolution into silence.

A fragile peace was commissioned by Angel Molinos Bosque and Otto Tolonen with the assistance of the Kordelin Fund, and is dedicated to them. Special thanks are due to Juhani Nuorvala for creating the live electronic textures. A soundtrack of the electronic part (also realized by Juhani Nuorvala) is available from the composer on request.