Michael Edwards

Vous n'avez pas la priorité

Programme Note

Vous n'avez pas la priorité is a composition for two, three, or four clarinets and internet. Owing to constraints imposed by the commission, it is not meant for distributed performance, with some performers in one location and others elsewhere. Neither is the piece meant for "web broadcast". The idea instead was to use a web server to organise musical material and offer it to the performers who, quite normally, play together in the same room before a live audience. It uses the internet, via a standard web browser, to present the performers with the pages of music that they are to play, thus replacing the physical pieces of paper that usually constitute a musical score. This idea came from Dexter Morrill, when we worked together on a piece he wrote for one clarinet and internet. For that piece, I had the idea of programming the web browser to change the pages of music automatically, after a specific amount of time had elapsed. For Vous n'avez pas la priorité, I also had the idea of having the computer choose the ordering of pages (based upon some constraints that I built into a pseudo-random ordering process) as well as varying this order for up to four different players. The following is an example of some of the constraints:

At the beginning of the piece, three clarinets will enter one after the other with the same page of music. Which page they will play, I do not know, but I know they will have the same page. I also know that the fourth player will enter with a different page, but again, I don't know which. Similarly, in the middle of the piece, all players will have different pages from each other, and, at the end, they will all share the same page again, but a different one from the opening, and again, in both cases, I don't know which pages will be used. In this way, all players will play each of the sixteen pages I have written for the piece exactly once, though each player will perform them in a different order.

The length of time allotted for each page will also be different for each player (though not generated randomly), as their automatic page turns happen at different times. Further, the length of time for each page will be longest at the beginning (about two minutes) and shortest at the tenth page (about 30 seconds), lengthening again towards the end (about 90 seconds). These durations are themselves modifiable, as the performers can configure the performance to last for anything between eight and twenty minutes: the page durations will be scaled automatically by the web server during the performance configuration.

By combining the page order and the page duration structures, I was able to add a pre-defined, yet very simple arch structure to the piece (accelerando followed by ritardando; all four players performing the same music at the beginning, different music in the middle, and the same music at the end), yet almost guarantee a different performance each time the piece is played (it is very unlikely that the computer will choose the same ordering for any two performances). Not knowing in which order the pages will be presented to the players means it is up to them to interpret the music in such a way that this structure is clear to the audience in any performance.