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A sense of space : for nylon guitar, flute, and soprano with percussion

by Daniel Portelli (2016)

sense of space


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A sense of space : for nylon guitar, flute, and soprano with percussion / Daniel Portelli.

Library shelf no. 783.66542/POR 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

A Sense of Space is for flute, guitar, and soprano with percussion. It works with different levels of magnification of instrumental timbre that reveals shades of grains and particles. The particulate sound vocabulary includes scratching on guitar strings with different durations and speeds, the sounds of crumbling shredded bamboo, and the brushing of sandpaper on wood. The vocalist with her phonation of breaths and whispers emulates these qualities. The piece is without words or text. Instead, language is disassembled down to phonetics, vowels, fricatives and air.


I came across a shredded bamboo wok cleaner at a Chinese supermarket in Haymarket, Sydney. It makes a crispy, crackling sound that I wanted to explore in a musical work. I was inspired by its noise spectra and found that these sounds can interrupt or mask momentarily the more pure and fragile tones of the flute and guitar. There are sections where the speed and the amount of activity increases which may overload the capacities of some listeners for a brief moment. I call this a 'mesh', and it is phenomena I openly embraced and brought into my musical language. The piece can then be thought of as a subtle play between ambiguity and clarity.


Similar categories of timbre sit within a spectrum that can be identified as distortion or an airiness of tone. Degrees of density or resistance are shaped, where physical pressure is the key parameter for controlling the audibility of the graininess or grittiness of each surface. My instrumental approach is also about articulating a kind of dynamism through gestural variations, where parts of the score are also recycled but may go unnoticed because of their slight alterations. Time may appear to want to move forward but is stopped by an uncanny sense of stasis. Pauses and attenuations often occur after sections that are populated with the dense sound activity of a flourishing string of micro-tonal pitches, and parts offset in uneven rhythms. The frequent interpolation of rests as well as quiet passages allows the sounds of the performance space to become more present to audience attention. For me, the sounds of the space where intended to be listened to during these moments and are part of the work. The audience are therefore encouraged to listen openly and embrace the sounds around them during the piece.

Work Details

Year: 2016

Instrumentation: Nylon guitar, flute, soprano (doubling percussion).

Duration: 10 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

First performance: by Alba Bru, Diego Castro Magaš, Peyee Che — 5 Mar 16. St. Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield, UK


A sense of space

Performances of this work

5 Mar 16: St. Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield, UK . Featuring Alba Bru, Diego Castro Magaš, Peyee Che.

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