GNIS IREN OB MORT, 2001-02
(12 part trombone ensemble: 8 tenors, 4 basses)

 

GNIS IREN OB MORT was composed for and is dedicated to the Blechforest Posaunen Ensemble, the resident gang of trombone players in Abbie Connant’s amazing studio at the Hochschule für Musik in Trossingen, Germany.  The work is an homage to my favorite instrument and seeks to show off some of its less obvious aspects.  GNIS is best experienced live in a large resonant space like a cathedral.

 

The first movement has been described as “the gates of Hell opening.”  It is based around the ideas of separating into smaller groups, the idea of a wave, and the transition between clarity and obfuscation.  At the beginning, the entire ensemble plays the same note, but different groupings of players accent certain rhythms.  Later in the movement, different groups form and take on different roles. These roles are defined through register, texture, and rhythm.  The wave shape is heard in different ways: the glissando, the crescendo decrescendo, and clouds of staccato notes.  The clarity/unclearity aspect of this movement is most easily heard in the second half.  The trombones have congealed into two large groups (left and right) and play chord progressions that outline the wave shape.  At the beginning, without mutes, the groups’ chords are almost completely obscured by the distortion at the attack of each note.  As they progress, the left group begins to darken its sound with certain mutes and playing techniques and the right group begins to brighten its sound with a different set of mutes.  As the amount of attack distortion lessens, the chords become more clearly discernable.  But the mutes hide the sound more and more until the end.  The chords are begun at pitch and without distortion, but the timbres are so altered that this “clarity” is made unclear.

 

The second movement is composed around the idea of a super-trombone.  It begins with a unison note and expands outward in both directions to the outer extremes of the trombone’s range.  There are two levels of activity occurring during this movement.  The first is the approach and departure from the interval of the unison.  This tension-release aspect is happening throughout the movement with varying degrees of clarity.  The second, less obvious level is the interaction of the overtones of the different trombones.  In a single, rich trombone-note one can clearly hear certain overtones: the 5th overtone (the major third plus an octave), the 6th (the perfect fifth plus an octave), and the 7th (the low minor 7th plus an octave).  When two (or more) trombones perform glissandos at different speeds, their overtones meet and match up in many different places.  There are places, especially toward the beginning of this movement, where it seems as though someone is playing ghostly notes high above the normal range of the trombone and also a suggestion of accompaniment by  large gong.  In truth, all the trombones are playing in the same register and these subtle swells and washes of sound in the upper register are the result of overtones coinciding and amplifying each other.

 

This recording was from a live performance in Stuttgart.  Manfred Schreier conducting the Blechforest Posaunen Ensemble.