Polyhymnia

For double bass and laptop

Introductory video

Video Introduction from Chris Williams on Vimeo.

Polyhymnia is as interesting as a word, as she is as a muse. The words’ meaning remains close to the surface for us while her meaning as one of the muses – daughters of Zeus – provides further depth. She is mentioned in association with sacred poetry (sacred song), as well as geometry, which are of course heavily linked to our own ideas of Ancient musical ontologies. She is also often noted for her meditative qualities and as ‘the one of many hymns’ As such the title Polyhymnia satisfyingly enshrines and inscribes for me the sound and one meaning of the piece with its technical construction.

The three main sonic ideas in Polyhymnia relate to the division of one into many. The tuning of the piece is altered gradually throughout, and is an audible structural feature. Beginning with a standard western ‘equal temperament’ (12 notes to the octave), a number of different equal temperament tuning systems are used, with increasingly fine divisions of the octave. The sounds themselves are also being filtered in order to emphasise different individual partials. As in any number of the beautiful overtone singing traditions we are thus able to hear two sounds as one. The ‘note itself’ is the lowest sound and then melodic figures emerge by emphasising different overtones. These two sounds are inextricably connected, yet discrete.

Finally, the performer and the computer are equal partners in a ‘semi-improvisational dialogue.’ They both have access to the same material, to which they both contribute and respond, so while at moments they coalesce, there is always the exquisite tension of division between the two complimentary, yet contradictory sonic perspectives.

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