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Fractured again : multimedia work for three performers, electronic music, glass installation and video

by Damien Ricketson (2010)

Fractured again


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Work Overview

Fractured Again is a show-length multimedia work exploring the medium of glass.

Future images are often founded in the objects of the past. In trying to compose as of yet unheard music I find myself drawn to that which has fallen silent. Lost and forgotten musics are a creative impetus for me. The relics of such musics - ancient manuscripts, depictions of instruments, even legends or fables about music - provide a rich landscape of musical ruins; not for historical reconstruction but for fantasy. The Glass Harmonica, its angelic sound, its beautiful repertory, its reputation for triggering insanity and its virtual extinction was fertile ground to explore in the creation of Fractured Again.
The fact that the instrument is made of glass makes it distinctive. The medium of glass - from ancient Mesopotamian beads to gleaming city towers - captures paradoxical impressions of antiquity and modernity. Reflecting and refracting the world around it, the optical qualities of glass have made the medium visually and conceptually central to object arts, as well as installation, architecture and poetic imagery. The musical qualities of glass, however, remain a poor cousin. Obscure as it may seem today, the Glass Harmonica is but one example of a rich and diverse world of glass-derived sound. From the ancient sounds of the Chinese Shui Chan or Arabic Tusut to the contemporary sounds of Toronto's Glass Orchestra or the sculpted (and sometimes blood-spattered) noise of Sydney's own Lucas Abela, the sounds of glass are numerous if not ubiquitous. One of the most noteworthy contributions to the world of glass music comes from the Melbourne-based Glass Percussion Project. Founded by installation artist Elaine Miles and percussionist Eugene Ughetti, several of Elaine's glass instruments are featured in Fractured Again including chimes, a glass xylophone and glass panels.
The metaphor of glass in Fractured Again, however, runs more deeply than the use of glass instruments as a sound source. Much of the music scored for the more conventional instruments of clarinet, violin and vibraphone has been derived from repertoire written for the Glass Harmonica. For example, there is a faint reflection of Mozart's Adagio for Glass Harmonica in a clarinet solo towards the centre of the work and a couple of allusions to the 'God Music' movement of George Crumb's Black Angels; a contemporary string quartet that included a symbolic Glass Harmonica in the form of bowed crystal glasses. The references to Mozart and Crumb, however, are misshapen as though they were viewed through a strange and distorted lens. The most tangible reference occurs at the opening of Fractured Again with a rewrite of the 'mad scene' from Donizetti's opera Lucia di Lammermoor. When Lucia descends into madness after she kills her unwanted husband, her beautiful aria was originally to be accompanied by a Glass Harmonica (in most productions this melody is played by a flute). In Fractured Again, this scene is quite literally 'fractured' into thousands of pieces and reassembled like a mosaic, each tiny shard collated to gradually reveal a new form.
The process of fracturing time is also characteristic of the electronic music technique of granular synthesis where the looping and reordering of microscopic samples are used to create something new out of something old: a musical approach that is exemplified by Pimmon whose electronic music in Fractured Again also is mostly derived from the sound of glass

The theme of glass forms a conceptual gathering point by which diverse media, sound-sources and approaches to composition are melded into a multifaceted whole. Although the presence of the Glass Harmonica is felt throughout Fractured Again, it is heard only fleetingly towards the end of the work. Just as relics remain evocative by what is missing, the reputation of the instrument - the idea of the instrument - resonates more loudly than its delicate actuality. With its reputation preceding it, the instrument finally awakens with a strangely frail and softly-spoken passage before receding into a future no less fragile than its past.

Work Details

Year: 2010

Instrumentation: Three musicians (clarinet, violin, vibraphone, glass harmonica, glass instruments, electronic music), live video and installation.

Duration: 60 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — requires staged production

Dedication note: Dedicated to the memory of Victor and Betty Calnan

Commission note: Commissioned by City of Sydney, MLC School (Sydney), Ian Potter Cultural Trust.. Commissioned by Ian Potter Cultural Trust, MLC School (Sydney), City of Sydney.

First performance: by Ensemble Offspring — 21 Jan 10. The Great Hall, University of Sydney

Video preview can be viewed at Curious Noise. Limited Edition DVD may be available at Curious Noise: http://www.curiousnoise.com/LookListen.html

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2011 Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Instrumental Finalist Damien Ricketson


Resonate article: Ricketson at work: the fragile and the secret by Anni Heino

Performances of this work

14 Sep 2013: at Ensemble Offspring: Slow Flipping Harmonies (The Engine Room (Old Fire Station), Bendigo). Featuring Ensemble Offspring.

12 Sep 2013: at Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (The Capital, Bendigo).

11 Sep 2013: at Ensemble Offspring: Slow Flipping Harmonies (The Vanguard). Featuring Ensemble Offspring.

21 Jan 10: The Great Hall, University of Sydney. Featuring Ensemble Offspring.

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