10th July 2014 – Passages by John Sharpley

Remarks by Robert Luse:

In the fullness of time, two factors have coalesced to enable this incredible work to re-emerge into the light of day. Firstly, in the process of exhuming my cassette achieves, I came across an anonymous looking tape; no labels or title. It was bright, shiny and new looking, in contrast to the many mouldy ones. “What is this, I wonder?” — And I gave it a spin. Lo and behold, a clear and credible rendition of “Passages” emanated, apparently recorded during a rehearsal, sometime before 1991, when the quartet disbanded. But not too long before, because it is clear that by this time, the pathways were well trod by the quartet. Upon hearing the work again, after such a long time, I was deeply impressed, both by its unprecedented and amazing enterprise – unprecedented, because written for a quartet of two altos, prime and bass (a-a-p-b), and amazing as to the result.

The second factor, digital transfer and our current editing capability; truth be told; the quartet’s best efforts (which I am confident this recording manifests) still fall short in various ways, of score demands and/or parenthetical expectations. Yes the notes are there, clear as a bell. But our ensemble did not quite rise to the standard assumed in normal string quartet playing. Take for example the apparently simple matter of playing a three or four voice chord with precision attack; or even just two notes at a slow tempo. Ironically, on solo guitar, such precision is routine and unremarkable. Between multiple players though, it is immensely more complicated. So yes, this problem was resolved through editing. The list goes on: dynamics and phrasing could be further enhanced. Timings could be adjusted. And the basic sound of the recording (not bad for one stereo mike in our living room) was given more of a concert hall presence. A rendition with the power to communicate, even within the sterile ambiance of computer viewing, might at last, have emerged! You the viewer, be the judge; but only after several hearings, please!

Remarks by the composer:

“Passages is commissioned by and dedicated to Robert Luse and the Singapore Guitar Quartet. As the title might suggest, this six movement work explores a multiplicity of frontiers, or vistas.
Firstly, an ensemble of altos, prime and bass guitars is relativity new and without the trappings of tradition. This is akin to the discovery of uncharted territory and new dimensions for the composer.

Secondly, this work was written in a spirit of true collaboration. Ideas — including some of an experimental or even fantastic nature — were gradually refined until the right ‘passages” appeared. Without Robert Luse and his ensemble, Passages would have remained an un-opened door!

Third, Passages is a personal to what I strongly believe to be a world revolution in thought perception. As the sub-atomic world is explored in quantum physics, so may the composer attempt to unravel the inner nature of sound: passages, which can lead to just about anywhere.”

Waves, the first movement is inspired by the flow and surge of water. How a genutle trickle can be transformed into a surging “higher state of energy”, only to subside again — a process akin to breathing. It is from the two ideas of water and breathing that the movement concludes with “white noise” (vocal sounds uttered by the players).

Recurrences is a sombre passacaglia (repeating theme), twice interrupted by cadenza-like free sections. The theme is “twelve tone” and is treated according to various forms of rhythmic and canonic development. Two aspects of nature are suggested: the theme as an undaunted moving force; the cadenzas closer to chaos.

Catch-me-if-you-can is ABA in form, somewhat of a scherzo0fugue-scherzo, each with a characteristic kind of imitation. In the outer sections, imitation is by groups of two, three or even a single note. This “hocket” effect (where a melody is distributed amongst two or more performers) creates — at least to me — an atmosphere of good natured humour. The fugue, or middle section, is based on the first four notes of the opening.
Spirals is about “sculptured” sound and silence. The instruments form a unified sound block that moves as a mobile, constantly shifting. Unexpected silences act as pivot points that urge some change of direction. In overall effect, time seems slowed down, stretched.

Stillness contracts by exploring a multiplicity of free floating, almost motionless colors. Delicate sounds sprinkle a simple line; time comes almost to a standstill.

Exuberance is about shifting energy levels that gradually build to a rousing climax. From the quiescence of stillness, time wildly accelerates through jagged rhythms and textures of a quasi-rondo where the players are so promoted that they must ultimately verbalize “EXUBERANCE!!!!!!”

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