Chris Dench

I can’t really speak for the other ‘complexists’; I think we variously use microtonality for our own purposes, which would be utterly different for each of us. For instance, Michael Finnissy used it originally to achieve the expressivities he was hearing in non-Western musics, Richard Barrett uses it as part of the Modernist arsenal, and to match his interest in composing a fully-through-composed version of Free Music. Can’t speak for them, or for Dillon or Ferneyhough.For myself, however, I have had different approaches to microtonality at different times. Initially, I utilised quartertones as a method of ‘making strange’ -giving harmonies construed within a standard 12-tone environment added piquance. The two creative environments gradually fused, and in such works as énoncé for ensemble, and the flute works written between ’86 and ‘91, the basic grain of the compositional cosmos is organised topologically with the quartertone (and in a couple of the flute pieces, momentarily eighthtones) as the quantum. I eventually tired of the peripheral problems that this compositional approach entailed -performer precariousness and consequent anxiety, and critical stupidity- and removed them from my works utterly after ’95. However, as an expressive resource microtones are not easily forsworn, and they are beginning to creep back into my work exactly as I originally used them -as enstrangenings. Also, of course, “…to match the subtle nuances of timbre in terms of pitch.” [Reference to quotation from article by Richard Toop in Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 29/2.]It is worth pointing out, perhaps, that I conceive the pitch and time components of music as being inextricably linked -’entangled’?- and consider it aesthetically preferable, in any music, that the degree of sophistication of both components be comparable. I have considerable difficulty with musics where this is not the case; for instance, the work of certain microtonalists, where the pitch subtleties are not matched by comparable rhythmic invention, or Conlon Nancarrow’s amazing rhythmic complexities which could not possibly ever be reflected in the pitch domain. Thus, pace Stephen Hawking, I have tried to think of pitch-space as ‘timelike’, and time as ‘pitchlike’ (Stockhausen would not be at all surprised), and this resulted, in such works as sulle scale della Fenice, in a kind of ‘holographic’ approach. When I later purged microtonality from my vocabulary, I felt obliged also to eradicate the (much-derided) irrational notation I had previously utilised, and consequently the extreme rhythmic elasticity that had characterised my sound; this had the incidental benefits of both encouraging performer trust in my musical vision, and silencing critical protest.As it happens, now that I am reintroducing a degree of subatomic pitch-thought, I prefer to retain the more specific rhythmic notation I’ve recently re-adopted. I’ve always been interested in, if not necessarily wanted to utilise, tensions between different parametric treatments within the corpus of the music, and this seems to me a promising development.Biography
Self-taught composer Chris Dench was born in London in 1953. He arrived in Australia after living in West Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, becoming an Australian citizen in 1992.Dench has been commissioned to write works for various organisations and ensembles. His workSymphony 4 – propriocepts for four amplified voices and large orchestra was commissioned by the ABC and premiered by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn in April 1997. He has been commissioned by the ELISION Ensemble on numerous occasions, resulting in works such asdriftglass,ik(s)land[s] and quattro frammenti. His works have been performed across Australia and internationally by ensembles such as the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Topologies, the London Sinfonietta and Ensemble InterContemporain.
He has been the subject of ‘composer portrait’ concerts under the auspices of the Almeida Festival in London (’86), the Kunst im Wissenschaftszentrum series in Berlin (’89), the Huddersfield Festival (’92), and the debut concert of Ensemble Topologies in London (’95). His works have been presented at such events as the Ars Musica Festival in Brussels, the Hong Kong ISCM/ACL World Music Days and the Damstadt Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik (at which he was awarded the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis of composition in ’84).Between 1986 and 1991 he wrote a series of four large-scale solo flute works: Vier Darmstadter Aphorismen, de/ploye, sulle scale della Fenice and Closing Lemma, which Paul Griffiths has called ‘important’ and ‘remarkable’ in his book Modern Music and After. Other works such as planetary allegiances, driftglass and funk have been used in television productions both in Australia and the UK.ELISION’s performance of funk won the 1996 Sounds Australian Award for best performance of an Australian Work. Symphony 4 – propriocepts received one of two High Commendations in the ’97 Triennial Paul Lowin Awards; it also received the ’98 Victorian State Sounds Australian Award for Best Work Composed by an Australian.Since the middle nineties he has been engaged on a review of his notational systems with the intent of simplifying the means by which musical ideas are presented to the player without compromise of the compositional substance.

His music is published variously by United Music Publishers, 42 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3BN, Red House Editions, Melbourne, and all scores are available from the Australian Music Centre; driftglass is published by BMG, Rome. His works have appeared on a number of CD labels, notably a collection of his flute works on Etcetera.

[Biography provided by the composer and current to 2001.]


Sulle scale della Fenice 
Laura Chislett, flute

From CD “Perspectives of New Music Vol. 29″
PNM 29

This recording was made on May 8, 1991 at Studios 301 in Sidney, Australia, and was the premiere recording.