16 November 1996
Alison Bean: Phonema
Phonema was written for her husband, John. The title is from the Greek meaning sounds giving the listener’s imagination free rein! “floe structure is a simple one, based on five contrasting thematic sound ideas. It was conceived some time after studying the complex mathematical equations used by the Greek composer Xenakis, particularly in the solo ‘cello work “Nomos alpha”. Alison has written a flute duet “Nomos Chi” as an exercise using the same mathematics as Xenakis but she felt there was in the end too little room for spontaneity in the clearly defined mathematical procedures. However, in this work, by using five contrasting musical ideas, A-E, put in a matrix, these could be combined in different permutations to create new sounds.
e.g. Sound A might be combined with Sound B, creating a new sound A.
Sound B might be combined with Sound D, creating a new sound b and so on.
This principle is applied loosely as the number of possible variations is too great to apply to a short concertino. The five sounds or thematic ideas appear in different combinations with each other, much as an artist might take some basic colours and combine them in an infinite variety to create new tones and shades. Alternatively, it may be thought of like a Chinese meal, with many different tastes to savour, but with even more interest achieved by exploring the combined contrasting flavours, eg. sweet and sour. Towards the end, there is a sudden, general pause, which reintroduces sound A, the opening very quiet, high, sustained idea with loud interjections, in a new combined form. This announces the final culmination of all five sounds woven together at the climax. Bon appetite!