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Sidechaining by DAVID BRUCE


Just as photography had a profound impact upon painting, I’m fascinated by the way recording and,later, digital technology have affected acoustic music-making. As well as the more subtle or indirectinfluences, I’ve sometimes wondered, could some of the techniques and effects used in digitally createdmusic work in, say, an orchestral environment? Well, in this piece I decided it was time to find out.

Sidechaining is a process used in digital-audio software by which the music in one channel affects themusic in another. Imagine a long chord. Now imagine the beat of a drum. Each time the drum beats, theheld chord just briefly cuts out or reduces in volume. That’s the essence of sidechaining. Another use ofthe process is when DJs automatically reduce the volume-level of music while they are speaking over it.Sidechaining can be used as an interruption, but it can also be a kind of trigger, one sound causingothers to launch; or it can be used repeatedly to create a sense of interaction between two separateideas.

The notion of one instrument interrupting or stealing the melody from another relates, for example, to themedieval technique called ‘hocketing’, in which a single melodic line is passed between of two or moreinterlocking voices or instruments (this happens at one point in my piece between oboe and clarinet,although in a distinctly un-medieval-sounding way); it also relates to the way rhythms are built up by apercussionist in, say, Latin music – a steady stream of notes is split between two percussion instruments:when one is playing the other is not, and vice versa (this also happens in my piece). You could think ofeach of the two interlocking parts as being the ‘negative’ (or ‘inverse’), rhythm of the other.

To me, there’s something very satisfying about making some of these effects on a grand scale in theorchestral arena. The opening bars for example, switch back and forth between two parts of theorchestra, almost as if some hidden hand is turning the volume knob up and down. The opening soundsare ones of power and energy, but elsewhere the effect can also be comical – the French horn inparticular, being the loudest of the soloists, has a tendency to playfully cut the other players off mid-stream.

The commission was for a piece scored for four soloists and orchestra, lasting 10 minutes. While thisinevitably leaves little time to fully indulge our four supremely talented soloists, I hope this joyful and good-humoured piece will encourage a general celebratory sense of goodwill in the musical communityand a sense of how lucky we are to be surrounded by such talent.

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for Four soloists & Orchestra

vn solo, ob solo,hn solo,cl solo, 3(II,III=picc),2,2cl in Bb(II=bass cl),3(III=cbsn),3 horns,3tp in Bb,3 trb,1 tuba,timp,perc(4),harp,strings

Duration 10mins
Composed Mar-May 2018
First performance BBC Proms - Royal Albert Hall, 15 July 2018
Commissioned by BBC

Past Performances

  • Jul 15 2018
    Royal Albert Hall, London (Jennifer Pike, Nicholas Daniel, Ben Goldscheider, Michael Collins, BBC Concert Orchestra cond.Andrew Gourlay) (World premiere)

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© 2018 David Bruce