The Tempest

World premiere performance by Thumb.
Conducted by Dan Watson.
Birmingham Conservatoire Recital Hall. Dec 3rd 2012.

Flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, Mantar (31-et chimes), percussion, 31-et electric guitar, 31-et altered digital piano, piano, soprano, violin, viola, double bass. Duration: 20:00

The Tempest

Programme Notes

The piece takes its title and some text from Shakespeare’s play, and indeed its essence. On first hearing and exploring the “familiar, yet other-worldly harmonic relationships” (as Heinz Bohlen himself described them) of the Bohlen-Pierce scale, I was reminded of Ariel’s song to Ferdinand and the description of the process of underwater decay of his supposed drowned father: bones become coral, eyes become pearls; still recognisable but having undergone a “…sea-change into something rich and strange.” The opening chromatic motif of Part 1 eventually undergoes a complete “sea change”, as diatonic and chromatic intervals get converted into their Bohlen-Pierce equivalents. This alternative harmonic material re-combines with the diatonic in the last chord of the piece – like Ariel in the play, it was hidden there in nature all along. The musicians in this piece are performing in 31-tone equal temperament, something that has been attempted rarely before, and usually by singers not instrumentalists.

Stuart Stevens receives an Eliza Avins Music Scholarship from the John Avins Trust and is grateful for the Trust’s support

Part 1. (3 mins)
Part 2.  (7 mins)
Part 3 – play within a play. (3 mins)
Part 4. (7 mins)

A note about the instruments

This work features three instruments in 31-tone equal temperament (a microtonal tuning system), which were created by Stuart Stevens and associates.

The Layke guitar is a standard scale semi-acoustic guitar re-fretted with 31 frets in the first octave. It was conceived by Stuart Stevens, and created by Jerry Crosson at The Fret Workshop, Felixstowe, Suffolk.

Mantar is a subset of a much larger chimes installation instrument (called thirty-one), originally commissioned by Aldeburgh Music in 2010. Much of the original installation was recycled into a playground instrument for Ormiston Children’s Centre in Ipswich: what remains is being used to further refine the chime design. Created by Stuart Stevens and Gordon Soames.

The keyboard is being dynamically re-tuned by microtonal synthesiser software, enabling a working simulation of three real instruments, two of which exist today: Nicola Vicentino’s 1555 Archicembalo, which was a 31-tone per octave harpsichord; the Huygens-Fokker Institute for Contemporary Microtonality’s 31-et Fokker Organ; and pianist Geoff Smith’s remarkable Fluid Piano, a microtonal-capable acoustic piano that can be re-tuned by the player during performance.