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SON-ombra : String Quartet no. 1

by Felicity Wilcox (2018)

Also known as: String Quartet No. 1

Score Sample

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Audio Sample

Performance by Sydney Art Quartet from the CD Selected Works by AMC Represented Artists, vol. 107.

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Uncovered Ground


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Uncovered Ground : Collected Chamber Works / Felicity Wilcox.

Library shelf no. CD 3201 [Not for loan]



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SON-ombra : String Quartet No. 1 / Felicity Wilcox.

Library shelf no. 785.714/WIL 11 [Available for loan]

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Work Overview

SON-ombra means SOUND-shadow. In conceptualising this piece, I was inspired by Denis Smalley's seminal text 'Spectromorphology' (1997). I was most taken with his notion of sonic traces, or the ways in which sound can leave a residue in its wake. The idea of 'sonic consequences' seemed to pervade my initial idea of generating both strong sounds and their traces, and I was also keen to set up interactions between the individual players to convey this idea at the micro level. So, throughout the work, there is a pattern where gestures are reiterated/reciprocated and circulated around the ensemble.

It seemed to me that having the two movements played as a retrograde of the other would most accurately convey the idea of a sound-shadow, and also be a strong compositional choice, in that it would allow the movements to be performed in any order, and through allowing the audience to hear the reversal of the sounds very clearly as the two movements transition, would make more directly apparent the core conceptual idea of 'sonic consequence'.

So the two movements are of exactly equal length in terms of bars, and contain identical material composed laboriously in retrograde. At times I have changed the rhythm to capture how an echo or reverb might manifest, at times I have removed any clear sense of pitch via extended techniques to create blurring. The two movements can be performed in any order, and in fact the work is perhaps most effective if the movement containing the 'trace' sounds ("ombra") is presented first. This is a facet of the piece that further subverts the kinds of hierarchies inherent in traditional electro-acoustic music and chamber music performance. It asks the question, "Who is to say that a reverb cannot precede the sound from which it is derived, or that an echo has to follow its trigger?"

Work Details

Year: 2018

Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello.

Duration: 10 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — extended techniques and rapid passages

Contents note: 1. SON (sound) -- 2. ombra (shadow).  

Commission note: Commissioned by Sean Botha

First performance: by Sydney Art Quartet at Secrets through a Soundglass (Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre) on 24 Feb 2018

The composer notes for the following influences, subjects, genres etc associated with this work:
spectromorphology, extended techniques, gesture

The two movements can be played in any order.


Resonate article: Uncovered Ground by Felicity Wilcox

Performances of this work

24 Feb 2018: at Secrets through a Soundglass (Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre). Featuring Sydney Art Quartet.

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