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Ken Ueno

Phase Patterns of Likeness Slightly Off

for 4 percussionists

(2023)
Duration14'
CommissionCommissioned by The Up:Strike Project
PremiereSeptember 5, 2023; Sheung Wan Civic Centre Theatre, Hong Kong, SAR; The Up:Strike Project (Percussion Quartet)
Instrumentation4 vibraphones
PublisherPSNY

Media

Program Note

Phase Patterns of Likeness Slightly Off was written at the request of Karen Yu, the co-founding director of the percussion ensemble, The Up:Strike Project. In 2019, inspired by Karen’s antique Musser vibraphone which has a greater range of vibraphone speeds than most other vibraphones, I composed a solo vibraphone + electronics piece for Karen, Wavelengths, in which sine tones interact with variable rates of vibrato on the vibraphone (motor speed which controls the rate of vibrato is notated on its own staff). In approaching composing Phase Patterns of Likeness Slightly Off, knowing that this piece will also be for Karen, I thought of expanding what I had started to experiment with in Wavelengths: the foregrounding of variable rates of motor speed, but expanded to four instruments!

The beatings that are endemic of tuning an instrument as well as those that occur whenever more than one note is heard are beautiful to me, especially those that occur between different microtonal intervals. Rates of vibrato plays in the same physical realm, a phenomenon that carries symbolic meaning for me.

When reading Samuel Beckett’s Murphy, I took note of the character Neary’s ability to stop his heart, calling this ability Apmonia (he had a few other terms too, namely, attunement and isonomy). The term, Apmonia, made an impression on me. It is derived as a misreading of the Pythagorean “armonia,” or harmony, misreading the Greek rho as a “p,” a Beckettian mondegreen of sorts. A misheard/misread artifact turns the word into an invention that retains the original word’s desire for attunement, as harmony, but casting it as an ever aspiration yearning. The invention becomes a physical symbol of mistuning, as a physical condition, an irrational heart. Irrational takes on two connotations here. One psychological, of course, while the other meaning points to a mathematical fraction. In Pythagorean harmony, the proportions are divided into integer ratios. So, irrational proportions, or two notes that vibrate at irrational frequency ratios, are inharmonic, not in attunement.

Murphy’s purpose in going to sit at Neary’s feet was not to develop the Neary heart, which he thought would quickly prove fatal to a man of his temper, but simply to invest his own with a little of what Neary, at the time a Pythagorean, called the Apmonia. For Murphy had such an irrational heart that no physician could get to the root of it. Inspected, palpated, ausculated, percussed, radiographed, and cardiographed, it was all that a heart should be. Buttoned up and left to perform, it was like Petrouchka in his box. One moment in such labour that it seemed on the point of seizing, the next in such ebullition that it seemed on the point of bursting. It was the mediation between these extremes that Neary called the Apmonia. When he got tired of calling it the Apmonia, he called it the Isonomy. When he got sick of the sound of Isonomy he called it the Attunement. But he might call it what he liked, into Murphy’s heart it would not enter. Neary could not blend the opposites in Murphy’s heart.

Apmonia is a Gumbrechtian presence effect for me. A physical experience, as well as a symbolic totem, with lingering psychological registers. When two notes are not attuned, a third fact, a beating, occurs. When the frequency difference between two notes carries enough energy, and is above the treble clef, a third note, a difference tone (a low tone), becomes a psychoacoustic fact. That difference tone is a Petrouchka inside all of us, a puppet, a ghost and real at the same time. A species of what I call physiovalence: the sympathetic resonance in alignment with broadcast viscerality in performance as received/enacted upon the audience, is the vehicle of my practice.

– Ken Ueno

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