Isotropes is a semi-open instrumentation piece that is composed of numerous fragments of music. These fragments are range specific but can be performed by any number/combination of instruments within the two main categorical divisions. The two main categorical divisions are “sustaining” instruments and “non-sustaining” instruments. Examples of sustaining instruments include (but are not limited to) wind instruments and/or bowed string instruments. Examples of non-sustaining instruments include (but are not limited to) plucked instruments, mallet instruments, keyboard instruments, and other pitched percussion instruments. These two categories are further divided by register. The register divisions are as follows:
- Sustaining Low: G1-C4 (can include double bass, tuba, contra-bassoon, bass trombone, bass saxophone, etc.)
- Sustaining Low Mid: E2-C5 (can include cello, trombone, euphonium, horn*, baritone and tenor saxophone*, bass clarinet, bassoon, etc.)
- Sustaining High Mid: E3-C6 (can include viola, violin*, trumpet, horn*, tenor and alto saxophone*, English horn, clarinets in Bb and A, etc.)
- Sustaining High: C4-C7 (can include violin, flutes and piccolo, oboe, soprano saxophone*, clarinets in Eb and D, piccolo trumpet, etc.)
- Non-Sustaining Low: A0-C4 (can include piano, string bass [pizzicato]*, harp*, etc.)
- Non-Sustaining Low Mid: E2-C5 (can include piano, harp, guitar, marimba, timpani*, etc.)
- Non-Sustaining High Mid: F3-F6 (can include piano, harp, vibraphone, marimba, celeste, guitar*, xylophone*, tubular bells*, etc.)
- Non-Sustaining High: F4-C8 (can include piano, harp, celeste, xylophone, glockenspiel*, etc.)
*These instruments will not be able to perform every fragment of music in this category but will only be able to perform the ones that fall within that particular instrument’s range.
These range divisions are not strict, which is to say that instruments can perform fragments that are categorized in ranges that contradict what is written above: for example, although the viola is listed in the Sustaining High Mid category, the viola can also play many of the fragments that are categorized in the Sustaining Low Mid category, as long as those particular fragments fall within the range of the viola. Instruments are therefore not limited to perform only fragments within the range categorizations shown above. Instruments are, however, limited to only perform fragments that fall within their particular range, regardless of the categorization of the fragment.
Occasionally, a particular fragment will breach the range limitations outlined in the categorizations above. For example, Fragment 3 of the Sustaining High Mid 2 part begins on an Eb3, a half step below the lowest note in that category’s range (E3). In this case, the player is instructed to play the written pitch if that pitch falls within the range of their particular instrument. Otherwise the player can play the divisi pitch that is shown above or below in parentheses, or simply omit that pitch from the fragment.
Within each range categorization is a difficulty categorization in which parts are categorized as being either easy, medium, or hard. The players are encouraged to choose which fragments they wish to perform (within the guidelines given by the ensemble director) and to record as many fragments as they wish.
Tempo and Rhythmic Notation
This piece is designed to be recorded remotely, one fragment at a time, by the individual performers through the use of click tracks. Each fragment of music has an accompanying click track, which is referenced in the notated part. The click tracks not only allow for the piece to be assembled through remote learning and recording, but also allow for the music to make use of simultaneous multiple tempo functions, or polytempo. Any time polytempo occurs in the piece, one or more parts are not quantizable with respect to the global tempo of the score. Therefore rhythmic events within these parts are notated using unstemmed note-heads that are horizontally distanced using a rough, non-precise, spatialization. To execute these parts, the performer should always rely on the click track to provide the precise timing of rhythmic events; the click track is usually in rhythmic unison with the rhythms of the part.
Whenever stemless note-heads are given in sustaining instrument parts, the player should assume that each note is held until the next note-head, unless a rest or staccato mark is given.
The piece involves many instances of steep acclerandi and ritardandi. The player is advised to closely adhere to the click track to execute these tempo “curves” as precisely as possible.
Occasionally, sudden tempo changes occur within a given fragment. When this happens, the part is notated with an arrow down symbol above the metronome, marking if the tempo suddenly drops or becomes slower, or a symbol above the metronome marking if the tempo suddenly leaps or becomes faster.
The Sustain of Non-Sustaining Instruments
Unless otherwise notated, the non-sustaining instruments should also be played with the pedal down, or otherwise with laissez vibrer or “let-vibrate” technique. To indicate sections that are pedal-up or where the notes should otherwise be dampened, the following notations may occur: non-vib., pedal-up. A rest written in a non-sustaining instrument’s part should not be considered an indication of dampening, unless it is accompanied by one of the phrases or the symbol referenced in the previous sentence. One exception to what is written here can be made with the harp: the harp can be allowed to dampen notes for the sake of smooth pedaling.
If there are beats or measures of rest notated at the end of a fragment for a non-sustaining instrument, the performer is instructed to allow the instrument to resonate during this time before stopping the recording.
Breath divisi for Sustaining Wind Instruments
If a particular fragment for a sustaining instrument contains a phrase that is too long to fit in a single breath before a rest is given, a bracketed breath divisi is indicated in that phrase. These are labeled as “breath div. 1” and “breath div. 2.” Performers should breath during these bracketed moments. Performers of wind instruments should assign divisi parts accordingly such that all divisi parts are covered. When taking a breath during these moments, the performer should attempt as much as possible, given the range and dynamic, a del niente and al niente effect, so as to hide the entrance and exit of their breath. Wind players can also add short breaths within melodic phrases as long as these breaths concur with the contour of the phrase.
Articulation, Slurs, and Phrasing
The notated articulation, slurs, and phrasing should be followed as closely as possible, particularly within the sustaining instruments. However, what works best for wind instruments is not always the same as what works best for bowed instruments. Therefore, the players can make the ultimate judgment about what phrasing and articulation they plan to use; if the player intends to use a phrasing or articulation that is different than what is notated in their part, they are advised to reference the score first to discern whether or not their phrasing will work well in context.
Parts, Click Tracks, Practice Tracks, and Recording Considerations
Included in the materials given to the performers are: notated fragments for individual parts; click tracks that accompany each fragment; a practice track that accompanies each fragment that contains audio of the click track mixed together with a mock-up of the instrumental part; a full score of the piece; a full mock-up of the piece. The practice tracks should be used principally for the sake of intonation, but they will also serve as a reference to clarify any questions with regard to the rhythmic notation within each fragment. The performer can choose to record fragments while listening to the individual click track or while listening to the practice track. The performer must use one of these tracks while recording; otherwise inconsistencies in tempo will result.
When recording, the performer should keep their microphone as close to their instrument as possible, with the goal of reducing any reverberant room noise or other ambient noise. However, the performer should be careful not to allow any bleed from the click track to be picked up by the microphone. Therefore, the click tracks should ideally be amplified using in-ear headphones (earbuds, in-ear monitors, etc.) played at the lowest level that the performer is comfortable with. It is also recommended that the click track be amplified in only one ear, such that the other ear is unimpeded and can listen discerningly to the sound of the player’s instrument and the surrounding recording environment. The player should set the level/gain of their recording device to be as high as possible, but low enough to avoid peaking during loud moments. As much as possible, the performer should record in a baffled and otherwise quiet room with little to no ambient sound intrusion (ideal spaces include closets full of clothing, small rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting or rugs, etc.). The performer is encouraged to listen back to their recordings and adjust mic placement, recording levels, room-baffling, etc., to create a recording that sounds best to the player.
All of the parts and click tracks are provided to the ensemble as digital files. Live performance of the piece is possible with additional planning.