Premiere: Ryan McMasters, double bass. Hartt School of Music, 2011.
Instrumentation: solo double bass, timpani mallets
Program Notes: When Ryan McMasters asked me to write a solo piece, as any composer would (should), I jumped at the opportunity to write not only for a talented performer, but for a proponent of new music. Ryan added to the impetus by showing me some unusual techniques he’d been exploring. A few of them immediately appealed and provided opportunities to explore some very different kinds of sounds than one might normally hear from a bass.
Critical Mass is in three parts, each focusing on a different type of playing. The first is pizzicato, utilizing a lot of double, triple & quadruple stops (well, chords). It is rhythmically active, featuring a one-handed pizz. technique. This movement drew inspiration from Stanley Clarke amongst other things. The second section focuses on one of Ryan’s interesting explorations, playing with timpani mallets on the strings. My ear was immediately drawn to the idea of dark, modal music aided by a drone string. The sounds that resonate from this technique are fascinating. The last section of the work (finally) utilizes the bow, tying in some ideas from earlier parts of the work as well as allowing some virtuosic stretching. I’ve been fortunate to take part in a collaborative effort with Ryan and to really explore the full range of the bass’s capabilities.
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