Altar of Two Serpents
for two flutesC, alto, or bass flutes (2009)
|Premiere||February 20, 2010; The Park Avenue Armory, NYC; Claire Chase & Eric Lamb – alto flutes|
|Technical requirements||While this piece is written for alto flute, successful interpretations on the C and bass flutes have also been realized. This piece takes influence from the gasba flute music of Northeast Algeria, which is characterized by a very breathy timbre, and the use of octave-overblowing rather than keys to activate higher registers. Performers should strive for a colorful, “fluctuating” sound that is rich in harmonics. When “noise” tones are played, they should never sacrifice clarity of pitch or rhythm. Rather, players should strive for the blown equivalent of a distorted electric guitar.|
The title of this work references the caduceus symbol of two intertwined serpents, depicted from antiquity in Sumerian culture (as the vegetation god Ningishzida), in Greek mythology (as a symbol of Hermes), and in alchemy as a symbol of the element Mercury (via Hermes). Here, it specifically references the sushumna energy of a Kundalini Yoga awakening, often depicted as serpentine energy emerging from the base of the spine. In the music itself, I draw heavily from the gasba flute music of Northeast Algeria, a fixture of Berber tribal music often associated with the ritual celebration of Islamic saints. The hypnotic riffs of the gasba are characterized by a raw, breathy flute timbre, rich in overtones, resulting in part from the use of endblown rosewood flutes. Altar is divided into two principal sections. In the first, the players elaborate on melodies that fluctuate between free time and fast riffs, which are often punctuated with heavy accents, “distorted” breath tones, and moments of silence. The second unfolds continously through fast alternation between players, evoking a latticework “trance of possession”.