String Quartet No.4: Hard Rock Vampyromorph

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Premiere: Cuarteto Cromano, Relaciones Culturales, Monterrey, 8-5-18; repeated 9-5-18, Museo de la Revolución Mexicana, Saltillo.

Principal Research Question: how can the concept of misdirection in conjuring inform musical strategy?

Inspired by a photo of a fossilized Vampyromorph, the research imperative for this quartet was to convey attenuation as a partially hidden linear process. Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind (2006) suggested misdirection as means for achieving this. Highly profiled music in the foreground is used to distract the listener from processes in the background such that, when the foreground material is removed, the culmination point of an underlying process is revealed and appears natural without the reason being immediately evident.

The musical techniques were informed by William Caplin’s Classical Form (1998), which develops Schoenberg’s concepts of liquidation, fragmentation, harmonic rhythm and rhythmic density; and two passages in the music of Sibelius: a) The shift from scherzo to adagio at b. 208 of the 7th Symphony, where material shifts from foreground to background through a flattening of registral profile, articulation, dynamic and harmonic rhythm; and b) The opening of Pohjola’s Daughter op.49, in which the foreground melodic theme (solo cello) is gradually flattened-out in melodic/rhythmic profile, thereby dissolving to accompaniment at b.27.

The innovation here is in combining these techniques to achieve musical misdirection. For example: bb.130-207 employs an underlying process of decelerating harmonic rhythm, preparing for the passage of stasis at b.192. Attention form this process is distracted by fortissimo semiquavers outbursts. The disruptions are initially fragmented rhythmically and use angular intervals. Across bb.148-179, the rhythms decelerate, the dynamic reduces to pianissimo, the pitch content reduces and articulation shifts to slurs. We are left with oscillating pianissimo dyads that dissolve into, and then reveal the stasis that has been emerging in the background.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherComposers Edition
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2018


  • Music, composition, attenuation, magic, misdirection


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