Four Notes

In November 3, 2009, a Mexican researcher and composer Patricio Calatayud interviewed Petri Kuljuntausta for his university thesis. In the thesis he focused on the composition Four Notes and Momentum album. This text is unpublished.

The Four Notes was released on Momentum album?

Foster Reed, the owner of New Albion records (USA), proposed that he could release my music on his label. He had heard my music, and he visited few times in Finland so we had chance to discuss about the project face-to-face. He was interested to release my CD, and I had already composed material for it: Momentum, Violin Tone Orchestra, Freedom and Canvas. I selected those compositions as these works were on the same line with New Albion’s musical style. That was the situation around 2001-2002 and this meaned the start for the ‘Momentum’ CD project.
I started to compose more music as I wanted to make a full-length CD. Those four compositions gave the direction for the CD, and I started to compose material that would work well together with those already made works (Momentum, Violin Tone Orchestra, Freedom and Canvas), but they should also give some extra dimension that I thought was needed for the album.
When the whole composition process was done, and all the compositions for the CD were ready, I send my material to Foster. But things had changed during this time and I heard from Foster that suddenly New Albion was at the middle of crisis. The company suffered from bad distribution contact and there were no buyers enough around. Their record sale collapsed, and Foster had to stop making new CDs. What they could do then, was only to complete already finished recording projects.  I realised that the timing was bad for my CD project. And as this situation continued with New Albion, I decided to release ‘Momentum’ through Aureobel label.

What was the inspiration for the Four Notes? I mean in terms of sound source, or did it came out as a result of experimentation?

In Four Notes I wanted to experiment on how I could get new music out from a traditional music work by using it as a source material and  using only a very limited sound sources. The origin of ‘Four Notes’ is in a classical piece. I picked up (or sampled) four separate violin notes from the selected piece, stretched them and combined (clued) together. I liked the warm and fat tone of the string sound, so that was the main reason why I selected string sounds for a source. Also the sound of the string instrument was something that I was looking for the Momemtum album (as there was Momentum piece, which was based on a sample of my string quartet). Also, the microtuning of each string note was one of the subjects that I wanted to study. I wanted to hear how the stretched tones, with their variating tuning, will react together — what kind of vibrations they might create when combined together.
I was very aware that when a musician plays a tones with his/her string instrument, the pitch is not 100% correct all the time (in well-tempered scale). As an experiment, I wanted to listen what happens after extreme stretching of these few notes and how these independent notes (four notes with their own micro tunings) will react with each other when putting them together.
I experimented with many kind of sampled musical materials, but many times I had to cancel my work, because of tuning problem. When a musican makes a vibrato, the change of pitch sounds tiny, but when I stretched the note many times longer, vibrato was slow-motioned, there weren’t tiny vibrato anymore but tremendous changes in pitch. So, I tried many kind of material until I found the right notes, the notes that were not spoiled with “too much” of vibrato (I had exactly the same problem with the vocal sounds of Canvas, as vocal notes with strong vibrato sounded terrible when I stretched the sounds longer. So I had to find tones with only tiny amount of vibrato…)
Philosophically this working method interested me in many ways. In classical works, a note or couple of notes (or four notes like in my piece) doesn’t mean so much in the context of whole work, where are tens of thousands of notes, but my goal was to concentrate on the ‘unimportant’ notes and try to create something meaningful from this very limited sound material. When listening the original (source) composition those notes will be passed quickly, as listener doesn’t pay much attention for the notes that pass your ears in a fraction of second. But I wanted to freeze time. We could think that the original work is like a river, but I wanted to take a cup of water from that river and try to create something new from that tiny amount of water.
Concerning the background of the work, I should also tell this story. I had heard story which was told many decades ago in the past, about a great violin player who wanted to master on his violin playing with the help of technological tools. He recorded his violin playing on reel-to-reel tape, and played back the recording in half speed (slow motion). This way he had possibility to go inside on his playing. With the help of technology, he had possibility to analyze his playing deeper. This method interested me a lot when I did my experiments. I sampled a lot of material and I realized clearly how often “bad tuning” was the problem even with the world’s best musicians and singer groups. But I thing this is only human, and this is not a big problem when you listen music normally: some micro changes in tuning during the performance doesn’t spoil the entire work. It is part of humanity that you don’t play perfectly, and of course the sounds are more interesting if they are not too tempered (in well-tempered scale). Only machines could give us “perfect pitches”, but I wasn’t looking for the perfect tones in Four Notes, just sounds that work together.

Did you had a programmatic or a non-musical ideas when you composed the work?

I had no programmatic idea in my mind. It is abstract music. As the title, Four Notes, says, it is only question about four notes, and how they live together.
But, of course if we think that recycling old material is a musical program, then this is true. I had this goal in my mind — I wanted to take something old, recycle tiny moment from it, and create a new work.

Did you had a plan before putting any note on a score or a sequencer? Is there any change that the resulting process could have been a different?

I had a plan behind the work, as I was starting to compose very particular kind of work for the CD. My intention was to compose a piece that completed the entity of the CD. During the composition process I went through many variations, until I found the right particles for the work. So, there are some sister works (earlier versions) for Four Notes, but I believe I am not interested to play these early versions publicly, as those were more like demos, or skitches, which were composed during the way to the real goal, the final work. Four Notes was the best result that I achieved from the material I had in my hand.
I believe I could make variations, other versions, from the work. Like making spatially active version, where all sound elements of the piece could be performed through multichannel soundsystem and distributed around the space. But I have not really thought about this more… basically the Four Notes is very stable, and it doesn’t contain activity in stereofield, so perhaps it is not good idea to spoil the basic concept of the piece by making sounds wander here and there between the speakers…? But who knows, perhaps I’ll do something new for the piece some day… remix, or something… 🙂

On what level sound (colour) is important in the piece? Is it possible to change the subject of the work? Could there be multiple subjects or is it question on “homeostasis”?

The sound colour is very important in this work! If I take these four notes and play these with a synthesizer, or piano, that doesn’t make any sense. Without original colour of the string instrument there is no piece there. The notes are only the skeleton of the work. We should also notice that it is not the original string sound that you heard here, in Four Notes, but freezed string sound, stretched sound, which sounds very different when comparing to the original string tone. By stretching the string sounds I managed to find hidden side of these instruments. And hidden colours (of the instruments), most of all! You can’t play this piece live, with four string instruments, as the philosophy if the piece is focused on other things. The philosophy behind the work is on recycling, and how to find something new from the old.

Is it possible to create different versions on the piece?

I am always open for experimentation, and if some composer would like to make new arrangement, or remix, from this work, I am happy to listen the results… 🙂 Remixing is some of the working methods of our time. Like in the past composers took the theme from the work of the colleague (composer) and wrote variations on it. It was kind of recycling the piece. And jazz musicians take a theme and improvise over it. Today, in electronic music, we could sample a work and remix it.