Mantle Plume

Richard Whalley (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


This work was composed for the Quatuor Danel, who gave its premiere performance in January 2019 in Utrecht. A recording of the performance in Manchester in March 2019 is available at Developing the geological research theme established in Iapetus Suture, Mantle Plume focuses on specific features found within the Icelandic landscape. Its principal aim was to investigate how geological processes including volcanism, the movement of tectonic plates, erosion, sedimentation and freeze–thaw cycles can be used as models for compositional processes controlling the unfolding of musical material over extended time-periods. Its methodology involved, first, building a temporal template modelled on the proportions of shapes within geological maps and photographs, then using this template to construct extended musical lines that develop structurally through the evolution of textural layers. Pitch and metre were conceived in terms of a sound spectrum, from fully pitched to non-pitched, from chromatic pitches, through microtones to glissandi, and from metrically regular to completely unmetred. Natural processes also inspired the treatment of string timbre, involving extensive exploration of string techniques. The research is contextualised by contemporary works preoccupied with landscape (e.g. Birtwistle, Silbury Air, Earth Dances, Finnissy Red Earth, Banumbirr), but specific study of Finnissy’s first string quartet, Haas’s eighth and Cenk Ergün’s Sonare informed techniques of textural transformation and microtonal usage, with Panayiotis Kokoras’s Holophony consulted for its extended string-playing techniques. In expanding exploration of musical applications of geological processes to a much larger scale than in Iapetus Suture, Mantle Plume provides research insights into the creative possibilities of a polyphonic approach to texture in which layers evolving at different rates and on different timescales can be placed in dialogue with one another, using this layering to expand the possibilities of ensemble writing for string quartet by creating novel forms of interaction between the players.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherComposers Edition
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2019


  • Composition
  • String Quartet
  • Contemporary Music
  • Iceland
  • Geology
  • Composers Edition
  • Music


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