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In prison air : for guitar and computer-realised tape

by Michael Whiticker (1988)

Score Sample

View a sample of the score of this work

Audio Sample

Performance by Geoffrey Morris from the CD Redror

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In prison air


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In prison air : for guitar and computer-realised tape / Michael Whiticker.

Library shelf no. Q 787.84/WHI 1 [Available for loan]

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Work Overview

The origins of In Prison Air can be found among a number of sources. Not atypically the original inspirations for this piece were put to one side as the music began to assume its own life. I found in the early rehearsals with Swedish guitarist Magnus Andersson that I was witnessing an unevenly weighted contest between the guitar and computer-realised tape, as the guitar fought to assert its identity, and in retrospect, even its right to exist. The emotional response from all those who heard the early 'workouts' was the same and it is captured, poignantly, in a line taken from Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol, 'Bloom well in prison-air'.
The initial inspiration was an image of a massive expanse of water upon which I pictured a man afloat in a small vessel. Water has a quality of the eternal about it, a timelessness which I have linked to the ancient music of Korea, a particular interest of mine. Much of the music of this ancient culture has survived virtually unchanged since the 15th century, and this, as much as the sound of the music itself, suggests to me the ceaselessness and regularity of an endless stream, an eternal current of sound.
I wanted my piece to suggest that it might be part of a timeless continuum with no beginning and no end. Yet I wanted it also to be largely a virtuosic display for the soloist, a work with a sense of progression, a build up and a release of tension, with an introduction and climax, and all the dramatic qualities that I, as a composer, enjoy manipulating.
Two of the traditional musical forms of Korea, Kasa, a narrative song form, and Sanjo, a virtuosic solo instrumental form, were a strong influence on this composition. The latter, usually featuring the 12 string long-zither the Kayago, accompanied by the hour-glass drum, the Changgo, is an improvisatory six-sectioned form which gradually builds in speed and tension to a very fast final movement. Kasa on the other hand, is a virtuosic display by a male singer with accompaniment. It makes much use of repeated melodic figures, falsetto tones, trills, vibrato, microtonal ornamentation and glissandi. I was interested in incorporating these techniques and features of traditional Korean music and into my work, not merely as ornamentation but as integral elements of style. The potential of the guitar is such that it was not difficult to take these techniques and utilise them. For example, I have re-tuned a number of the strings of the guitar to take advantage of the possibilities microtonal tuning offers.
Although the public reference to Korean music culture is intentional on my part, it is not done lightly. In principle I feel that it is more respectful to keep such responses to a personal level, being very conscious of the sacred nature of many traditional cultures. On reflection it seems relevant in the light of the response people have had to In Prison Air to reflect on Korea's long history of oppression, trapped as it is between the might of the Asian continent and the ambitions of the imperialists of Japan's history.

Work Details

Year: 1988

Instrumentation: Guitar, computer-realised tape.

Duration: 11 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Magnus Anderson with funds provided by Swedish Academy of Music.

First performance: Oct 88. Wollongong University

Performances of this work

Oct 88: Wollongong University

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