Les Larmes is a vocal setting of a poem written by my mother, Céline Suzanne Laflamme Forte. The text has been set to music composed for vocal quartet with electronic processing using MAX/MSP software. The poem itself was written in a time of personal and familial strife: the diagnosis, decline, and eventual passing of my grandmother from Alzheimer’s disease, on top of an illness misdiagnosed as terminal cancer that my mother recovered from. As a school nurse and educator, and the matriarch of her household, Céline’s healing hands and words are shared with many. Her poem continues to resonate, offer solace, and has taken on even more meaning in these times of social-political unrest amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poem Les Larmes can be read here in both French and English.
Performed by Quince Vocal Ensemble and premiered virtually on August 4th, 2020 at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Triptych for Percussion Quartet
Each movement represents a different historically-informed compositional style inspired by three historical/contemporary figures.
Movement I: Many Landscapes is based on the life and work of Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645), a 17th-century Japanese samurai, writer, and artist. The score is graphic notation made up of Sumi ink and watercolor on paper. Performers are given free choice of three instruments/objects each with which to interpret the score.
Movement II: Quincunx is based on the life and work of Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983), a British serialist and experimental composer, and is one of quasi-atonal, decaphonic serialism. Five 10x10 matrices were arranged in a quincunx shape (like the number 5 on dice) and used in combination with chance operations to inform both melodic and rhythmic structures.
Movement III: Ceiling Fan Ratios takes its name from the ceiling fan in the studio of American visual artist Jon Verney (b. 1987). Each voice of the ceiling fan, from the slight hum of electricity, the whirring bearings of the electric motor, the blades spinning through the air, the light bulbs rattling against their glass enclosures, to the clinking of the pull-chains, all have certain repetitive numerical relationships to the others, both intervallic/harmonic and rhythmic, which informed the composition of this final movement.
Performed by Mobius Percussion on February 13th, 2020 at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Graphic scores for Movement I: Many Landscapes
Sumi ink and watercolor on paper
When I sit at the piano to practice, I begin with a meditation to clear and prepare my mind and fingers: the left hand plays an ostinato pattern in rhythmic groups of 3 while the right hand is free to phase in and out of synch using patterns of opposing numbers. Left to right, respectively, it may be 3:1, 3:2, 3:3, 3:4, etc. This piece, Ratios I, evolved from these piano meditations into a larger composition for string ensemble and piano. It utilizes Serialist processes (i.e. tone matrices) applied to a Minimalist tone-pallet (i.e. rhythmic and melodic structures). One may think of it as scenery viewed from the window of a moving train: the piano’s driving ostinato (sempre forte) as a constant horizon off in the distance, sometimes obscured by hills and valleys; foreground, midground, and background created by the different string sections.
Performed by the Aurora Chamber Orchestra on June 17th, 2019 at the North Kingstown Public Library.
A threnody dedicated to my ancestors and to all those affected by displacement and oppression. Through researching my family's genealogy I discovered ancestry in the First Nations People, Métis, and Filles du Roi. The deeper I dug into this history, the more inner turmoil and existential anguish developed, resulting in the creation of this piece.
Mechanically, it is a 4-track composition for analogue modular synthesizer consisting of off-kilter percussive sequences in a polyrhythmic, odd time signature; disjointed wind/water sounds made with pink and white noise; and human-like cries fashioned from dissonant harmonies of sine, triangle, and square wave oscillators.
Recorded in 2018 using a Starkey Laboratories Analogue Modular Synthesizer