The Tempest Part 4
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 – 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 rarely attempted before, and usually by singers not instrumentalists.
Stuart Stevens (1962 – 2016): composer, democrat, one-time radiographer, ex-punk rocker. Stevens absorbed influences from acoustic physics, contemporary micro-tonality and the scrapyard.
He explored the juxtaposition of modes (symmetrically favoured) with series derived from the natural harmonic series.
After building a 31-tone equal temperament guitar, Jerry Crosson advised that they had now “stretched guitar technology to the limit”. Steven’s guitar piece, Modulus of Elasticity (2012) stems from a term in physics, relating to the stretchability of stuff, and how far you can take it before it breaks. It is based around two primary chords of the little known, or understood, Bohlen-Pierce scale.
Stevens wrote works from small ensembles to orchestra, often involving voices, sometimes using his own experimental instruments. Reaching beyond the established conventions of music notation, 12-tone equal temperament and performance practice. In 2015 Stevens won Arts Council England funding to compose and produce three performances of All About and To a Female Artist, based on the short story of the same name from Shelagh Delaney’s Sweetly Sings The Donkey. He created a new music melodrama in 31-et for chamber orchestra, singers and actors, up-cycling the letters Delaney received in her original text to bring new music, theatre, art and creativity to the ordinary people of Salford.
Drawing on life experiences, expressing childlike joy at discovering and sharing ideas with all who encountered his work. Un-encumbered by issues of style, genre and social class, challenging and destroying artificial barriers.
Music, to Stuart, was not only a gift, but also a service; not only a work, but also a struggle; not only a mission, but also a message.