Quartet Polyphonic (2017) for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello
In 1917, Henry Cowell wrote Quartet Romanic as a proof-of-concept for his idea of “rhythm harmony,” fully outlined in New Musical Resources (1930). The idea is to take proportions found in harmonic relationships, and transpose them into the time domain. (That is, the frequency ratio of the two pitches in a major fifth, 2:3, leads to a cross rhythm of 2 against 3.) In his study, Cowell began with a simple four part counterpoint exercise, and transposed the harmonic relationships to create a complex and fragmented rhythmic grid, which was filled in with independent melodies using an atonal, ‘dissonant counterpoint’ technique. Needless to say, this resulted in rhythmic overlays that were impossible to perform until the advent of programmable click-tracks allowed for the piece’s first performance in 1978. Quartet Polyphonic builds upon this tradition with the use of gradually changing tempi that weave in and out of synchronization, and a variant of the dissonant counterpoint technique in which the contour of successive phrases are ‘cloned’ and repeated in a ‘mutated’ form.