An Interview with Roger Reynolds
Part 3 - Transfigured Wind: A Guide
SS: OK. What we'd like to do now is go through Transfigured Wind III with Roger giving us some commentary as we go. We hope this is not how you will listen to the piece in concert because we're going to be interrupting quite a bit here. Roger, this is your show.
RR: OK, and you're certainly free to interrupt at any point. What we see here is the first solo.
It is, in fact, that box [points to diagram of the plan to show relationship to score]. It's what begins the piece, and what I want to do is to just play the first line, starting here [points to the first note] and going over to there [points to the end of the first flute solo at the bottom of the page].
RR: OK, what I wanted to point out there is that the first event is a kind of "object." It's what is called a sforzando, which is a very intense and sudden energy delivery. It's on a particular pitch, a C, in the lowest register of the flute. But the idea is that the performer is called upon to make a very arresting and complex and short sound, almost as though it were an object. That's the first thing that happens.
The second thing that happens is that that same pitch is now re-addressed in the opposite way which is as a single, long, growing tone which moves from almost inaudibility to a relatively full dynamic, and then resolves - in a sense it escapes (but only very slightly) - upwards.
The next thing that happens is that we go back again to the sound of this basic C. And now it's sounded again, but intermittently. As you can see and I hope you can hear ... it moves into what are called whistle tones, the idea here being (to refer back to what I mentioned earlier), that any sound which we hear which is a unity consists always of a number of components. And what I do here is to suggest the idea that that tone - that single low C - has a lot of other aspects to it that you may not have noticed or may not be attending to. So I call on the player to pull away from the fundamental frequency and to play only with the "air aspects" of the sound briefly.
Then we return to the C again with another sforzando. But this time the sforzando extends, and the pitch bends slightly upward and then there's a short figuration ... another effort to get out of a metaphoric box.
We have another sforzando, another glissando, and now a rising interval which is quite extreme. This really shows: yes! - we can get out of this ... we can escape, as it were.
I want to make this very clear. When I wrote this I was not thinking consciously about the things that I am saying now. I observe these things about what I did. But I wasn't analytically planning: this note will be this, this note will be that .... I was writing what I felt ought to happen in the context of a set of materials and a large-scale formal goal and a kind of expressive climate.
SS: Did that explosion on the first C occur to you in the planning process? Did you have in your mind: I'd love to start with an exploding C (which is what it is to me).
RR: No. But it is worth saying that before the solo was written - and I forgot to say this - Harvey (who was at that time at Indiana University) came out to San Diego, and we worked for a week just playing with sonic materials. I gave him categories of sounds, and we tried out things. So these extremely explosive sforzandos were among the sounds that we tried, and some of them made it into the piece and some of them didn't. But I had a repertoire of extended or unusual sound. In fact, what I was going to call this piece originally was Twisted Wind. I think Transfigured is much better.
But Twisted was the way it started out. So anyway, the point is that there are a lot of things laid out potentially here - figuration; object-like sounds; extraordinary extension; the partial separation of a particular sound into its acoustic components; and then the idea that we can take either a small step as we did at the beginning, or a much larger step. So it gives us also the idea of dimension or of domain. I would like to go back and play that and go on.
RR: Hear the whistle tones ....
RR: Something that makes you lean forward and .... Now .... a very rapid figure ... Now we have a little opening up. Now returning to the beginning but moving with a greater latitude, shall we say.
RR: Now I mention here again, this passage involves overblowing up the successive harmonic partials of a fundamental tone. This is something that flutists try not to do normally, but that can be done in a very particular way. And the interesting thing to me is that I found later that posited here is, in fact, the last phrase of the whole piece - which I certainly was not anticipating then.
SS: But it was in your mind when you got to the end.
RR: Yes, of course.
RR: Here is what is called a multiphonic - the production of more than one pitch at a time.
RR: OK. It's important, I think, to note that the first ensemble response is set off, as it were, or reacts to, that idea of the sforzando beginning as an object. So everybody is playing - in a very powerfully articulated way - his or her own set of sforzandos. Everybody in the orchestra ... there's no coordination, as it were, until the moment that we just stopped at [score excerpt examples are shown in the box on the right] where there begin to be "tethering" chords which begin to shape or reign in the disparate energy of the individual sforzandi that all the members of the ensemble have been playing.
So in a way the ensemble's first response is rather inchoate. It doesn't quite know what to ... I mean metaphorically (again, this is not something I was thinking at the time, but what I'm saying now) the ensemble is, in a certain sense, responding to an opportunity for liberation, for being itself. And its not interested in working together. There's no coordination at the beginning at all. Everybody is just doing what he heard the soloist do.
Now, I think that the figuration, as I mentioned, begins to be reigned in, both because it becomes a bit more sparse and because it begins to coordinate itself in certain moments of simultaneity. Now, it's also worth mentioning that, of course, the computer is participating in this too, with algorithmically extrapolated versions of the flute part. So there is a saturation of information. And when you are in a live performance, the computer part surrounds you in a quadraphonic way, and these sforzando sounds are not only multiple and inchoate in terms of their identity, but where they are. The sound is not coming just from the stage and the orchestra, it's coming from all around you in the hall.
Now at this moment also, interestingly, on the tape part here, here's a sforzando again (the one that opened the whole piece) as transformed by the computer - in fact, it is elongated 128 times. And what you get is an envelope which suggests to me "linear aspiration" such as was happening at the end of the first solo itself. But it's without explicit contour or rhythm or pitch. It's simply a noise - growth and evolution - and you'll hear that very clearly now. It sounds like wind or a rushing sound - not a normal kind of pitch. But again, I realize that I posited that at this point in the piece because I wanted to draw attention to this "object" notion - the idea that a musical sound has other kinds of identity that we don't normally penetrate into - and that the envelop of this whole sforzando laid out in time - 128 times expanded - gives you a sense of the arch of the whole piece.
RR: Another one of those orienting chords.
RR: Now we're coming towards the end of the first ensemble response and getting ready for the second flute solo. What I take this to represent now is that idea of the event, the object, the sforzando, the single note - but the single note placed in the context of successions of single notes. So I'm interested in the idea of one-after-another - but changing the speed, changing the register, changing the way in which these notes succeed one another. So the beginning of this is at an even speed, and then it begins to grow more and more rapid and to be more figuratively driven. But the whole second solo, for me, is about playing with the speed of the succession of objects. Now we're not any longer positing things, but we're showing how a thing which is posited can be dealt with, can be treated, what kind of a life it can develop for itself. And throughout the first section, at this second solo, it's all basically linear. And sometimes the speed is very great and then, suddenly, it stops and becomes slow. But often, when the pitch becomes slow - that is to say, the pitch is not changing continuously - there is a flutter or something that gives it speed in another realm. So, constantly, the ideas of speed, succession and shape are part of this second solo.
As you'll hear also, when you get down in here - to this section - you have a breaking apart of the line into a statement and response within the solo part alone. So the primary line is moving rather slowly, and it's as though the flutist steps out of the picture for a moment and plays with, and comments on, the tones of the primary line which is still plodding along in its way.
SS: I didn't notice that before.
RR: Well I think you'll notice it this time. There are primary tones and there are other embellishments and ornaments that go within and comment on, in and out of focus or in and out of "role." Then when you get down to this part there's a composed, multi-layered counterpoint going on where there are two or three tempos operating at the same time. The basic idea is "speed management," but speed taken in a lot of different senses and allowing the individual soloist to say: I'm not just one thing - I'm multiple things. I can comment on myself, I can perform several structures at the same time. So I'll stop when we get to each of these points. This is the phasing-in to the second solo.
RR: This is the computer now - the SPIRLZ algorithm.
RR: OK, now, notice that there's an attack there. There's an attack which is a little bit like the first attack ... reminding you of the first solo. But now we're going to deal with it in an entirely different way. There's going to be a basic succession of emphasized notes, and then a series of playful, lyrical, scherzo-like interjections. So listen for that bipartite aspect.
RR: OK, that passage has a lot of changes of mode, emphasis, and so on that interplay. Beginning right here, it's a composed, multi-tempoed structure (this is from Ambages). But always, again, it's working regularly with things that are moving in faster or slower speed relationships. And you hear that that's what's at play throughout this last part of the second flute solo.
RR: That's the second solo statement ... which I would take to be a multi-dimensional play on the process of beginning. Using one of the elements that was posited in the first solo, the idea of the "object note."
Now, what is the response to this going to be? The response to the first solo was disruptive, chaotic, uncoordinated. Now we want to have the ensemble - again, just as though this were some kind of narrative or program - we want the ensemble to respond in some new way to this. So what the ensemble does is to come in with a very expansive and relaxed and harmonically sumptuous reaction. It's decided that it's going to accept this proposal. But it's interesting to me that, buried in the harmonic richness and timbric richness of the full orchestra, is also a nascent line happening. So the ensemble, which abjured line totally during the first response, is now responding to the linear suggestions of the second solo in its own way.
RR: Now here, of course, we're remembering the texture of the first response. And this can happen while the linear and harmonic aspect of the second response evolves. Remember that in the original plan we have a mosaic of boxes, and the one that controls the woodwinds, which contains the idea of the exaggerated sforzandos and grace notes, comes back at this point ... but now it overlays - it does not replace the general trend which is more elongated and more linear in the ensemble at large.
RR: Another stop here. This is an interesting issue - going into the composer's closet, a place that you would normally keep people out of. We've talked about the algorithms. You mentioned that to read about them in words was not straightforward, but to actually, in a sense, see them demonstrated is very straightforward. On this page - in this part of the piece - I had a number of ideas, which relate to the computer processing. I wanted individual percussionists and pianists to come in with bursts - improvising bursts of sound - which just trailed away, almost like mini-SPIRLZ. And I also wanted the string players all to be playing the same brief motive, but very stretched out in time and out of phase with each other. So I wrote in the score: "come in more-or-less here and do more-or-less this." Well, in most cases, when this piece is done, or when Transfigured Wind III, the chamber version, is done, I would say that in the first rehearsal maybe 20 per cent of the time goes to these two or three pages. In music - not as in theater - when an ensemble is performing music, each person needs to be explicitly told what he or she is to do. And if you move away, even a little bit, from the normative - the part says play this note on this beat of this measure, etc. - if you move away to the tiniest degree, you get into a hornets' nest of explanations, of questions, of doubts, of conflicts. Even assuming that the players have the very best intentions possible ... they want to do it right: they say what am I supposed to do? It's quite comical, really, but at this stage I have to say I would never do anything like this again.
SS: Just because of your experiences with rehearsing this piece?
RR: Well, I've had this experience over and over and over now: if you're going to use, in an ensemble situation, something which you want to give the effect of spontaneity and of openness, you have to write it out as explicitly as if it were some kind of a complex canon. If you write it in standard musical notation, they just play it. But if you say in words that you want a certain effect, and you don't tell them exactly how to get it, there's no established ethic, there's no way of them dealing with it. And this is one of the things that I've discovered as a composer who initiated his activities in the 60s, which was a time of great turmoil and questioning of standards, questioning of tradition. What you realize, of course, increasingly is how enormously valuable conventions are, and that without conventions you're totally helpless because what you have to do is to invent new conventions or not care. And an artist who doesn't care, from my point of view, isn't an artist. I mean, there's no such thing as an artist who doesn't care.
SS: Is that one of the reasons you rarely see totally graphic scores anymore?
RR: Of course. It didn't turn out ....
SS: .. It didn't work out the way they wanted.
RR: Well, the idea of graphic scores was very useful in opening doors ...
RR: ... conceptual doors. But not in creating opportunities for economical execution. Now, of course, for a soloist or a small group, where rehearsal time and comportment is not a big issue, it's less a problem. And you can go wherever you want to go. But, no, I think that that experience of the 60s did not translate into long-term gains so far as notation is concerned - though of course it did insofar as musicians' awareness of opportunities enlarged. But this place [in the score] is horrifying to me because it's so straightforward. It just means: "OK, everybody play this series of notes - start more-or-less where I say in the bar and just let it happen." [But] they can't do it. Whereas, in the theater, if you don't explain the reasons for something, everyone is helpless. In music, it isn't intentions that count; unless you don't specify exactly what you want them to do, everyone is helpless. It's crazy.
RR: OK. Here I'm affirming, for the first time, the important function of the computer by giving it a solo. This is, of course, a recorded flute line, but transposed two octaves down so it sounds rather more portentous. And of course it's projecting in the hall in a way that no flutist ever could without amplification. But the idea is this: I've pulled away the orchestra, I've pulled away the soloist. And I'm saying at this point in the piece: you have to reckon with the computer. And incidentally, we also have, introducing this solo, the biggest of these kinds of arrival points that has happened yet in the piece, so that I'm drawing attention to this moment.
SS: Since this is really the first time where the computer comes out, I just wanted to ask quickly, on your notation, this is not an exact ... these are basically cues for the conductor. Is that correct?
RR: Yes. The notation gives several kinds of information. It also could potentially help the analyst or musicologist or even the conductor - because it says when something begins to happen; what the material is, that is to say, what it is that the algorithm is operating on; and then what algorithm is in operation. So I write the thing which is the source of what you're hearing. But I don't tell you a great deal about what is explicitly happening nor how the process is unfolding. No, it would be hopeless ... to transcribe a part like this would be ....
SS: ... not worth it in the long run?
RR: No, it wouldn't be worth it. All I'm telling you is the tape is a factor here, and in some cases, as with this middle-range line that is happening here, you recognize that it can be notated. But all the other figuration shown in relation to the computer part is not literal. It specifies the source that is being used to make the resulting sound.
RR: We're getting ready now for the third of the flute solos - another proposal. It's much more variegated. It's generally in a rather agitated mode, and it is now clearly telling you what its aspirations are. Its aspirations are line - lyrical line. That's what it wants to do. I'm sorry about all these anthropomorphizations. I feel rather like a Walt Disney .... But I think it's important, at least once in a while, to give some keys into something. Other people at that point can find their own parallel way, but for me, when I listen to this piece now, I have no sense of having composed it myself. It's just music I'm listening to. And I observe things about it, and I feel things about it, and so I say: Well, that's what the music is "doing."
SS: Well, it may seem strange to others, but I find myself talking to music all the time. So I don't see anything problematic here.
RR: [Laughs.] The idea that: "it's 'trying to be' linear." I wasn't thinking of that when I wrote this. But I see that now, that's what I read into what the music is doing.
And one another thing that's happening: the writing is more agitated, it's "needing," it's variegated in terms of its techniques and strategies - much more complex than either of the first two. It's of course getting longer. And now, because - anthropomorphically or metaphorically - because it's more confident, it can tolerate the ensemble and the tape coming in, intruding into its space. So now you'll see that the ensemble is saying: "Well, I think we can come in ... we don't want to get in the way too much ... but we can come in here too and help this along." And the tape enters. And so you have a much more complex situation. The solo is still a solo, and it is still leading. But it is being ramified in other ways.
SS: And the orchestra is tentative at this point.
RR: Well, the orchestra is just being well-behaved. It knows that it's the flute's turn. So it's being quiet, but it's offering a certain form of encouragement; shall we put it that way? And you'll hear that when the flute enters this time, it's still unclear relative to the tape. Now comes the string section. I think it's important there to also point out that that's the most fragile, open, unsupported, as it were, place in the entire piece.
RR: Much of this material is from Ambages in this solo, and it has an "at the edge" quality where you don't quite know where it's going to go, and the line opens up. It's still, in my imagination, a line. But it's sampled just a touch here and just a touch there. And so I hear the line going through that. The player is just giving you a little instant of the underlying line. It's almost an inversion or the opposite of the object-sforzando C from the beginning of the piece - because now these notes are almost not there. But they're now tied for me ... tethered ... to the idea of a lyrical underpinning.
RR: Now the strings are getting more figurative. Now you recognize, of course, that this is a return to the material of the very first response. But now we're going to go somewhere else with it because the first time was, as it were, texture alone. It was, what I call, an inchoate contribution of a huge number of independent and uncoordinated aspects. Now we are going, little by little, toward something which has been posited by the flute in its third solo, that is, the aspiration for line. We haven't quite got there yet.
SS: It's important in a passage like this to be in the hall.
RR: As you say, there's an antiphonal aspect to the computer part - things are coming from different places. And there's also motion - sounds are following paths. Now we have a different kind of nexus point. A kind of settling in to this wind chord. Now we have another computer solo.
RR: But you hear that the process, in this case, that of the inchoate beginning ... is falling into an orderly relationship which is much more palpable and much more rapid.
RR: I think it's important to note about that last passage that now, for the first time, the flute as soloist, is itself responding to the computer. The computer part now is in an expansive mode, and rather than positing information or proposing things, the soloist is himself moving into the role of commentator. So the overall point here is that the dramaturgy of the piece is getting more and more complex. It starts out in a hopefully reasonable way. You have this and then that, then this, then that. Little by little the relationships start getting enmeshed and entwined in different ways. So now ... this is not a part of a major 1-2-3-4 solo ... the soloist is functioning in the context of the piece in a different way. Now he's an outsider who is exhorting.
SS: So you wouldn't say that the flute soloist at this point is even a part of the orchestra. That's kind of the way I was looking at it before.
RR: No, no, I'm hearing the flute always as a protagonist of one sort or another. So in this situation what the computer is doing is expanding, is spinning things out; and the soloist is reacting. There's no line here. There's no extended passage. And I think that what happens is - again, if you're thinking of this as a narrative extension - the computer drops out ... it doesn't react. So what we're going to get in a moment is the fact that the ensemble strongly does react. The ensemble says: we need to do something about this situation. And not only does it come in with an assertive, object-like mirroring of the sforzando at the very beginning in the first flute solo, but it also starts filling in with its own swirls and elaborations, and it shows that it could, in fact, take over - it could, in fact, become the exemplar of this striving toward something.
RR: So, in a sense, this is the ensemble's counter-exhortation: "Yes! - Now what's going to happen?" The next thing that occurs is that there's a passage, a fairly extended passage, when the algorithms which are processing the solo flute material in the computer part, elicit from the ensemble an imitative algorithmic-like behavior of its own. So we have quite a long interplay which, as you remind us, is quite remarkable in the hall, because these sounds are flashing around the space. You have the orchestra at the front of the hall, and you have the computer's responses darting around, sometimes behind you, sometimes on the right, the left, and so on.
SS: In quadraphonic sound - an ideal concert situation - I suppose that it would be much more effective.
RR: It is, of course.
RR: And of course we now have also a transformation of that original, aggressive and assertive idea into something more playful ... I mean, this is a scherzo-like domain in the piece (parts 3 and 4 in the ensemble passages shown above) where we're experiencing in a much more relaxed and open and playful mode.
RR: We're coming back to another one of these nexus points - cadential. This is, obviously, a formally cadential idea throughout the piece. We have this settling on a mid-register, milder kind of chord as a point of reference. And in this case it's preparing for the entrance of the last major flute solo. Number four is truly trying to bring everything that it has already posited together into a peroration ... as a linear behavior. And one of the things that I noticed which I thought was amusing, is that these eight notes in this disposition are quotes from Ambages, and I noticed that the numerical relationships, the proportionality, which is at the center of Ambages (3-to-5) is in fact here in the 5 of the first group and the 3 of the second group. Now, you could argue that the idea of numbers in this respect is arithmetic mumbo jumbo. But what is interesting is that, if you look at a piece such as, let's say, the Opus 111 Piano Sonata of Beethoven - to me it is absolutely clear that, throughout that piece, 3-to-2 is the thing, more than anything else, which drives the music. I'll just state that now ... we could argue it at another time.
SS: Well no, I don't think I would argue with that for various reasons. But I would point everybody to a similar point you make in A Searcher's Path, A Composer's Ways.
RR: Yes, in A Searcher's Path I began to talk about it, but I've carried that a lot further now. And the interesting thing is how 3-at-a-time and 2-at-a-time, two 3s, three 2s, in terms of the rhetoric of the piece, is so essential. And then the very last two or three bars of the whole piece are an explanation of the groupings of 3s and 2s in the piece.
But the thing I also wanted to point out in Transfigured Wind is how differently one feels about that Ambages quote when it happens here as an initiator and when it happens in the body of the solo at a later time. Because this is much the most expansive of the solos.
So now we jump in with the chord which initiates this all. And then the flute's effort to pull together everything that it's been doing and to make an argument for the value of line.
RR: Just as the flute's line becomes more stable and expansive, the computer comes in. And what the computer is doing here is ... it seems to me like the mist coming in at night. And the computer is taking a long phrase from this solo - it's separating it into three sets of partials. Each one of these sets of partials is being time-stretched, but not to the same length. So the parts (the partial strata) are pulled out of temporal synchrony with one another. What they do is aspire to become whole again, which they accomplish only at the very end of this passage. So you hear these fragments - partial components of the melodies which the flute is playing live - floating around the hall during the primary playing, and little by little, spatially and tonally and timbricly and temporally, coming together as a close to this whole solo.
RR: For me this has a lot to do with memory. The idea of remembering things ... in the hypnogogic state such as you get into sometimes when you're just waking up or just falling asleep.
RR: Here we have the extended sforzando again, as in the very beginning, which here introduces a much more rich and luxurious exploration of these ideas, using the full resources of the orchestra and of the computer.
RR: Now we're going to enter another place. And another kind of transformation is taking place. That series - as in the first response of the ensemble - of the very strong and de-correlated sforzandos is going to be taken up now by the strings pizzicato. But instead of being irregular and unexpected and forceful, there are simply layers of speed. It's a clockwork mechanism, and therefore what has happened is that what was originally disruptive and distracting is transformed into something which can be supportive and can now tolerate and lift and accompany what is needed, which is line.
RR: Now listen to the pizzicatos.
RR: I should mention right there ... this is a part that I have a special fondness for. It's the moment that everything gets out of the way, and we're going to have now a long linear exposition. And just at that moment I have this little arpeggiated figure in the piano which is out of a 19th-century salon piece.
SS: I agree, and I put it together with the chord that just started too - that's a wonderful sound.
RR: Yes, well, but it's funny - every time I hear that I think it's
odd. But, on the other hand, I felt at this stage - of this piece - that I would draw attention to this moment; but I don't want to draw attention to the moment in a way that is going to disrupt what's happening. So what I'll do is make another kind of quote.
RR: Oh yes, this ... And again, all these things are almost, but not quite, the same. Everything is being smeared and smudged just a little bit. But everyone is trying to do the same thing.
RR: It's worth mentioning that here, all along, the computer has been playing the same line as a drone in the treble register - a la the scherzo of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, where the pedals are often in the treble range. That sound is in the hall, moving slowly around, but it's an anchor of a different sort. Now instead of having chords which tie time in a certain way, we have an anchor which is horizontally shaping the pitch realm in a particular way and slowing down the passage of time. (What I am doing is really, of course, a terrible thing to do - nobody but the composer could do this to his own piece - to break it up like this.) I find that this is another "inverted orientation" strategy. And what it's doing is leading not only to the culmination of this part of the linear exposition, but also preparing for the longest and most complex of the computer's solos. The computer is planted here, but unless you were really paying attention to it in the space, you wouldn't notice it. (You would notice it if it weren't there.)
SS: Well I think that what happened to me at this point - because I really love this whole section - is that, in listening to it in the hall (this was in Buffalo, so I attended all the rehearsals and all the visual aspects of the rehearsal were there), but during the performance I found that when I closed my eyes I could hear things moving that I couldn't when my attention was distracted by the visuals that were going on down on stage. It became a real concert the moment I opened my eyes and I was watching the conductor and so on. But I would suggest to anyone who listens to this live to close their eyes because there's a very oceanic feeling about this whole passage.
RR: [Over music.] There you can hear the computer. I leave little holes for it.
RR: [Over music.] These are all, of course, transformed flute sounds ...
SS: ... which it took me quite a while to figure out - only after a hint from you on another piece.
RR: Yes, there's no sound on the tape - on the computer part - that isn't directly derived from recorded flute sounds.
SS: There's a moment somewhat like this in your piccolo piece, ... brain ablaze ... she howled aloud .
RR: There is no SPLITZ- or SPIRLZ-processing here. There is only the idea of taking a sound apart into layers and then moving those layers relative to each other so that you get a world that is posited as a not-quite-cohering set of parallel, partial strata.
SS: Which I take it you can really only do digitally - electronically. You can simulate it I would assume ... orchestrally ...
RR: Yes, but this is an acoustical reality. You really have a situation in which, if you put them all together, they are indistinguishable from the original source. But when you take them apart they have ... like this sound here ... I'm not sure whether you would think of these sounds as flute ... or flute-like. They sound like muted flutes.
SS: Yes, I would call them "flute-like," but I wouldn't identify it with a live ...
RR: But they are literal components of real flute sounds ...
RR: [Re low chirping:] For me this is a dream landscape. And when the spatial aspects of it are added in, it's really the meadow before the urgency of the build towards the coda, the denouement.
RR: So there are three things that happen from here on in. The first is that we take the idea of the event. And it begins to be, instead of a single thing or a line, it begins to be the urgency of multiple repetitions - of iterative speeds - it becomes part of a new urgency. And these iterations are now leading towards a series of orienting chords, becoming more and more intense until arriving at a very strong high point. When the music arrives at this strong high point, suddenly, for the first time in the piece, the line goes into the deep bass, and you have, prominently, the low brass and low strings, also for the first time, with bass drum ... really saying, "OK, we've got it now." So all of this is leading towards that moment, that realization.
RR: You hear that the computer is continuing the very expansive, drawn-out restatement of material that we heard in the fourth flute solo. So it's as though we're still at one level remembering, in a slow-motion time, the lines that we heard previously. And the orchestra is urging us toward something else on top of it. And of course these sounds from the computer are constantly traveling in space.
RR: ... now the low end.
RR: Now that force is spent. ... A little drawing out. And it's time for the soloist to come back in to, as in effect, deliver the summation.
SS: From this point on it's really focused on the solo flute.
RR: Yes. ... But the computer is active throughout here in the stead of the soloist, and has been doing these very flashy, figurative, algorithmic transformations that are zipping around the hall. And at this point the orchestra is saying, OK, now the flutist comes in.
RR: Now the orchestra's low points are becoming tonal ... and dropping and supporting the evolution of the line above it.
RR: Now just a C ... C# now ....
RR: [whispered re flute solo at this point:] At last.
RR: So it actually does find its way to the place where it needs to go.
SS: And again we should mention that the last flute solo is an echo of the very first page. It's a beautiful piece.
RR: We should jump quickly back to Archipelago , because Archipelago is the piece that I wrote in '80 to '82. And it was a piece in which I tried to restructure or reshape my idea about what music ought to do and how I ought to do it. Archipelago is a didactic piece - it's an extremely complex piece - much more complex than this. Basically it's an amalgam of fifteen themes and variations going on at the same time. I did this piece - I love it, it's a piece that I'm very glad that I did - and when I got finished with it, all the components that are here in Transfigured Wind were in that piece. There were thematic solos and duos and trios, quartets, quintets; there were ensembles; there were computer transformations. And I thought, what would happen if I tried to make a piece of this same duration - it was 32 or 33 minutes long - but I tried to really simplify the use of these ideas? And to enter into this, not with the idea that it was an arena in which an exposition of certain ideas and strategies - tactics - was to be tried out, but rather trying to put an established procedure at the service of - to use a term you've niggled over - a certain expressive intent. And I suppose it's not surprising that, in search of that expressive intent, I would not only fold in the strategies that I had been developing in the context of Archipelago at Ircam, but also that I would draw on my own roots, which of course are very much tied up with the flute and with that period of time after I left my educational phase and went to Europe.
I was seven years away from this country in Europe and Japan before coming back to settle in, and during that time I knew what I was going to have to do. I was going to have to become a composer, basically. And I knew that, if I went immediately from the university into a teaching job, I had no hope of really "searching myself" and finding what it was that I needed in order to go on. What Karen talked about - the nourishment that is necessary in order to go out into the world. I don't mean that as something - we don't mean that as something, surely, that sounds flimsy or weak or timid. It's rather that in our world at this time, finding the space to create oneself as an artist is, I think, more difficult than it's ever been in relatively modern times ... I mean, assuming life and a certain level of sustenance and liberty. And so for me, having had this experience with Archipelago caused me to immediately want to revisit it - same scale, same tools - but now a much more open and musical and expressive goal. And so I think that's probably why back to the flute, why back to Ambages - a piece that was suggestive to me of a time in which all that space was available in my life.
SS: Well, it's getting to be time to close for the day as it is, but it's also a little difficult for me to talk shop now because, immediately following the music, I have a little difficulty concentrating on the more specific aspects of the compositional process.
RR: Well, it's too bad we couldn't have heard the piece in it's, let's say, "full majesty" with multi-channel sound - and maybe at one point or another it will be possible. I would say, as an additional comment on the state of things now, that I owe an enormous debt to a lot of people, some of whom I mentioned in my comments on influences. With regard to the second half of my compositional life, Ircam and Boulez have a very, very large place indeed. The idea that a government can build an elaborate experimental facility, the purpose of which is really to put the finest of energies to the task of uncovering what we need to know in order to grow in music, in art, in our understanding of resource and so on; and the idea that at the same time, it actually not only tolerates but invites and, indeed, commissions people from other countries to come there and share in that resource - this is truly an admirable and extraordinary thing.
Much as I love and admire our own country, I have to say that I regret almost daily the fact that we don't see the situation in the same way that, for example, the French do. And I would not have become what I am, for better or for worse, ... I would not have written this piece, let alone Archipelago ... if I had not had an opportunity to stop what I was doing and to sit in an environment - stand, walk around, whatever - for a long period of time when I was not a kid. I wasn't helpless ... I knew how to do things, but basically what Boulez and Ircam gave to me was the opportunity to rethink where I was, and to retool for another, slightly alternative future. I took it very seriously. I did Archipelago and then Transfigured Wind right after it in San Diego so as to build our own facilities there to gain access to, if not the same kind of mental and intellectual space, at least to the same kind of technical resource (which we do have now, indeed). I then went back to Ircam a second time for a piece called Odyssey , which was even longer than Archipelago and explorative in another way, and I'm now at work on the third large-scale piece that I've done there (The Angel of Death ).
I realized, in preparing to come here (to Washington), that we make our lives out of the opportunities that are offered to us. Some of us have certain sorts of opportunities and others, other kinds. Being, as it were, exiled on the West Coast, the opportunity to spend the time that I have spent in Paris, not only because it's Paris, which is wonderful, but because of the existence of a certain space which is filled with resource and which allows you to pursue things which are not possible under the normal kind of strictures. This, to me - as in the context of science or industry - is basic research. If we don't invest in "basic research," we move, I think, far less securely and far less rapidly than we do when we have that opportunity. And I think that in every human endeavor, in every mental endeavor - you need to have time and space to go, not only where you are already prepared to go, but where you dream of going - where you would like to be able to go.
We have resource available to us now clearly unlike anything that has ever existed before. Surely, in music, the advent of computers says, in effect, whatever you can imagine in your mind you can experience. Now, this is no small thing. The problem is, of course, that it's not as easy as snapping your fingers. You have to, in fact, know what you want, and you have to know how to get it. But yet, at root, whatever you want you can have. And this is a realm of imagination which is to be treasured. There couldn't be anything more optimistic in terms of art than the fact that the materials of our art - of music - are now more available, more expansive, more rich and complex than they have ever been in the past. This doesn't mean that we will immediately be able to manage them with the skill that we can manage a shakuhachi  - but it's there. The question is only, from my point of view, how soon will we get to this there. I would like to do all that I can as a composer, and, as in these videotaping occasions, as an explainer or commentator on what it is that is happening, to promote the speed with which we get into all those wonderful new places.
SS: Well I certainly join you in your advocacy in that particular direction. I hope we can do it sooner than later.