Nebula Ensemble will perform my piece “At that point (again)” on their upcoming concert: VERSE//CHORUS//NOVA
“At that point (again)” is a quartet for the unusual instrumentation of tenor saxophone, trumpet, viola, and cello. Much of the material was drawn from “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars. Specific elements of the harmony, rhythm, and phrase structure were considered along with broader stylistic and idiosyncratic aspects. The most conspicuous of these is the recycling of the song’s bombastic opening: three repeated chords with a distinct harmony that announce the start of the music. “At that point (again)” takes this idea but does not allow the fanfare to relax into a groove so readily. The chords progress forward, each new sound heralding its own arrival. This is the first meaning of the work’s title: we continuously relive the opening even as the context and details change.
The harmony follows the song’s chord progression, but is manipulated to create complex sonorities based on overtones and microtonal inversions. These chords reflect the natural microtonal inflections in the melody as performed by Bruno Mars, which are taken to an extreme and produce a comparably expressive progression that shares the original’s characteristic momentum.
Eventually, the repetitive energy dissipates and the texture becomes as intricate as it is delicate. With the opening fanfare escaped, the music takes on a more melodic character, stretching and distorting a single line of the song, which taken out of context and restated continuously, takes on an unexpectedly gloomy significance: the desperate desire to escape something. As the fanfare reappears and dissipates again, a frustration emerges: we’ve had this argument, this fight, this protest before. The details, the characters, the circumstances have changed. But the cycle continues. I don’t understand why or how, but we are at that point, again.