XXI:4 No time
3 clarinets, bass clarinet, piano, 2 percussionists (1974)

by Jos Kunst (1975)

Comments to the LP Composers' voice DAVS 7475/3

I have composed No Time in order to pursue and to extend the trend of thought underlying Elements of Logic. Ambiguity, the central concept of the Elements, is also applied in No Time, in aspects defining the form, the long-distance relationships.

First some marginal notes concerning matters one cannot hear on the record. No Time is a composition containing two solos, one for bass clarinet, and one for piano, which have been integrated into an ensemble; both start at once in bar 67 and proceed till the end. It is also possible to combine the two compositions with the exclusion of other clarinets and percussion, the result being the composition No Time at all. It was my aim to organize musical meanings and formal effects in such a way that these different combinations would bring about radical changes in as many materials, details and long distance effects as possible.

Solo Identity I, the music for bass clarinet starting at bar 67, is an athletic, virtuoso music, which does not mean that it should sound as if it were easy to perform, but, on the contrary, that its difficulty should be made audible: it is hardly possible for the player to manage, but he is successful, after all. (As far as the form is concerned the composition resembles an obstacle race-track.)

Solo Identity II, the piano part from bar 67 onwards, takes off like a rocket falling apart. Persisting in working itself upward, it never even gets properly started; while "quoting" all the time musical activities which, if followed up, could possibly have saved it, it never gives any of them their proper breathing space.

Thus both Solo Identities are two very different compositions, particularly because of the fact that the performer of I is up to his "task" (though it gives him a good deal of trouble indeed) which enables him to take with virtuosity a number of diverging musical courses, whereas the performer of II is unable to cope with his subject (on a higher level this inability is of course his subject); his efforts are frustrated and end up in a failure. In the composition for bass clarinet the performer gets over the obstacles, the composition for piano, on the other hand, is dominated by a great number of heterogeneous obstacles. In the duo for bass clarinet and piano No Time at all advantage has been taken of a certain similarity in material. The two solos are joined, thus creating a new entity, a kind of battle: the piano becomes a whole again, which means that it does not sound any longer as the aggregate of 88 separate instruments it technically is (every key corresponding with one of them) and the elan of the bass clarinet is seriously affected by the interferences of the piano. As a duo both are operating with virtuosity, but, in a way, stationarily as well.

The objective of the composition for ensemble No Time is the transformation of the musical meanings at issue into other ones; for that purpose formal effects, i.e. effects brought about by long-distance relationships, are applied in the first place. The ambiguities which have been discussed in connection with the Elements of Logic are to play again the most prominent part.

I'll now go through the composition. (I shall refrain, however, from any comment upon the performance.)

A (bars 1-6)

The clarinet quartet is playing a music which is both tonal and atonal. Tonal meaning that the audible chord progressions occurring in consonant chords suggest tonalities into various directions; atonal meaning that none of these tonalities is ever completed, none of them ever gets the opportunity to dominate, not even for a short period of time: the tonalities neutralize each other completely. The dynamics are forte: a kind of pathetic schizophrenia.

B (bars 6-28)

The music suddenly turns into pp. The chordal structure is sustained; there are no alterations as far as rhythm is concerned; the variation between consonance and dissonance now shows irregularity. Using a metaphor (thus producing one in the second degree: music itself is one already), I would describe this music as 'sneaking along hurriedly, though very cautiously, over highly uneven ground'. Successively we note (bars 14-20) a rapid periodicity containing syncopes — occurring quasi by accident — which issues in a limitation of intervals to small ones, a temporary "congelation" of the music into 2 chords and (bar 19) even into one: standstill. Then, suddenly, the music is free from the restrictions which seemed to originate as it were from the inside, and proceeds as before. Such an event is, and at the same time is not, part of the music in which it occurs.

C (bars 28-66)

The listener is forced to reorientate himself concerning the beginning of the composition by the woodblock-statement covering the bars 28/29. It turns out that there is another "beginning"; or, in other words, that the first beginning (1-28) was only partial. It is suggested, both by energy and fierceness ("as loud and as sharp as you can") and a rhythmical formula presumably pertaining to a far more extensive process which may have been present in mind before (an accelerando increasing in rapidity: every subsequent duration is, with respect to the preceding one, shortened by a higher proportion (made more shorter) than that preceding one was with respect to its own predecessor), that efforts are being made to counterbalance the long absence of the woodblock-statement. Besides, the musical layer which is represented by the woodblock-statement will not recur in any ambiguous way for some time. Meanwhile a number of processes has been initiated in the music for clarinet-quartet; the structures of these processes involve that they are only noticed when they have been going on for some time; they produce "rigidity", a sort of "cramp". When the cramp-like situation is followed by a sudden relaxation -and this happens over and again- we are strongly reminded of the preceding music; this, however, has to be corrected after some time: ambiguity. Successively we find c''' sharp in all chords (bars 28/29); Eflat -F in the bass (bar 30); Flz immobile tones in all instruments (bars 33-34); fixed closed loops in every instrument (34-36); etc. More and more parameters (ways of playing, dynamics, instrumentation etc.) are brought in to process the various ways in which the "smooth sneaking" of B goes wrong.

The music is developing in a global way, which might be described as a change of meaning in the pitch continuum, connected with a change of meaning of the parts of the individual players. The first alteration bears on large intervals; in former situations great differences of pitch did not raise any trouble; whereas now they are realized more and more laboriously: the continuum of pitches develops a kind of inherent resistance, a kind of stiffness. The musics for clarinets covering the bars 45-50 and 57-60 have obviously been derived from step-by-step chromatics and, as for the latter section, even from glissandi. If you care to look at bar 58 3rd beat as far as bar 60 2nd beat, you will notice a chordal combination containing 7 sounds, which is gradually transformed into one containing 4 sounds; all sounds are part of a (glissando) frame, which is in motion with constant speed:

[7-note chord b-des-es-e'-bes'-c''-d'' transformed into 4-note chord cis-d'-c'''g''']

The emancipation of the individual players is taking place gradually, involves an increasing energy in the tone-production, and will certainly be understood in relation to the changes which are taking place in the area of pitches (and vice-versa; after all it is the individual player, who can be localized best in that area). The parameters rhythm, consonance, dynamics, articulation and timbre also show alterations, which should be considered in this context:

D (bars 67-end)

There is no point in sustaining the division of the music into stages; therefore the remaining 99 bars will be regarded as one stage. The transformation from a monophonic into a polyphonic structure has taken place gradually; the woodblock-statement (see the beginning of C) was the first to become independent of the clarinet quartet, followed by the percussion (after bar 43; in the bars 40/41 it did not come off yet), and later on by the piano (only after bar 50, and in combination with the percussion, at least in the beginning). The bass clarinet has also become independent of the quartet. Anyhow, the start of the duo piano/bass clarinet may be regarded as a serious effort to effect an actually more polyphonic situation, which is realized by fewer instruments. A "vertical" disposition of simultaneously played layers is combined with what should logically be called "horizontal polyphony": an alternation of several musical activities, which has thus been organized, that the musics which are not being played, may not be forgotten: the listener is forced to remember several developing musics at once, and to follow them. This procedure yields a real polyphonic situation.

Markings on the articulation of the polyphony have been indicated in between the notes in the solos for piano and bass clarinet. Because they are not reproduced in the score of No Time, there is no point for me to go into the matter in this text; if someone would be interested, I can supply all information I've got. Within the scope of this text we'll mainly ooncentrate on the formal influences which are exerted by the new surroundings. It is possible to distinguish at least 5 different kinds of influence:

  1. The duo bass clarinet/piano (also) acts as a continuation of the preceding music for clarinet quartet. For that reason — when listened to in a particular way — all its constituent musics behave as a group, which is placed opposite the music from the beginning (A-B-C), the result being a reduction of the rapid and capricious musics produced by the duo, which come to show a contour-like effect, a kind of "slowness" in the new surroundings. (N.B. In my opinion it is quite well possible for someone to practise various ways of listening — which might even exclude each other — at the same time. After all one tackles music, and is influenced by it, as one would anything in life).
  2. At the same time the various musics produced by the duo obtain a more differentiated relief by the extra pasts added to some of them in the introduction and in the new surroundings. For example: the bars 71-73, produced by the bass clarinet have been prepared in the bars 52, 56, 5, 62, and in the Iegato music occurring in the introduction; these forms of musical behaviour occur here consecutively in a written-out accelerando (bars 71-73). The chromatic movement upward occurring in the middle register of the piano (bars 70-72) has also been prepared, and not merely by the piano (53, 59, 60, 64; compare what has been stated on chromatics in C) and will show important developments later on.
  3. When considered over a longer period of time, the 3 clarinets function as a kind of backing for the bass clarinet; the relation between percussion and piano is a similar one. By this procedure the duo is slightly separated now and then, the result being a more distinct bipolar structure, which sometimes effects — though in a different way and later — a "reduction", comparable to the one mentioned in 1.
  4. Both the 3 clarinets and the percussion are greatly responsible for the articulation of the remaining part after bar 67. As a rule they produce wide, concentrated "gestures", which are in clear contrast with the capriciousness and the perseverance of the duo. The mutual distances among these gestures are relatively large. Consequently what is happening in bar 154 becomes, in a sense, one of these gestures: similar to Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture No Time terminates on various levels and at different points of time. (l refer to the final bars and to the f and p levels in Mendelssohn's composition; speaking of No Time, l mean the bars 124-125, 135-138, 141, 154, and the end).
  5. Finally, there are numerous detail-alterations, a number of them being important for the overall form of the composition (longdistance effects). A clear example is the allusion to the beginning of the composition in the bars 87-88; in these bars extreme consonance plays again a prominent part, and afterwards, the meaning-transformation of the pitch continuum, which was discussed in C, occurs again in a different way. (Music is not a narrative; it is thinking.) The bars 103-108 provide another example; here, owing to the activities of the clarinets, the chromatic climbing strongly dominates all of the music for some time. And — this has been hinted at before — this sort of musical activities Iink up many details of the composition. A third example is formed by the quasi standstill produced by the intervention of the clarinets in the bars 117-121 (and the subsequent one), which, as far as the exact pitch is concerned, follows the piano meticulously, thus exposing the (pseudo) mobility of the part at issue (chromatic movement downward). As for the piano and the bass clarinet, they come to play increasingly large-scale and slowingdown musics by that time; this even leads to a real standstill in the music for bass clarinet from bar 130, particularly when the other clarinets become silent (after bar 141). A final example is the music for 3 clarinets, covering the bars 98-102, being a sort of "blow-up" of the bass clarinet activities in the bars 91 and 154-155.

All the things which have been discussed up to now are details and mere examples. The effect of the composition as a whole would, as a matter of course, come up for discussion in an elaborate analysis. Here I have to make a jump, when I want to say something about it: in my opinion, however, all preceding descriptions can figure in the ensuing general interpretation. Everything that happens in the composition, is a contribution to a dialectic between "one/all" on the one side, and "more-than-one/many" on the other side. The aim is to open-up concepts and to make them mutually accessible. Strictly speaking, to create a new, a higher order concept, containing the existing ones (the polarizing tension of which is retained), giving the opportunity to all of them to function in a convincing and effective interrelationship.