Flag, in a loose sense, is a transcription of John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever. The use of a patriotic American work is deliberate and gauged with respect to current events (America’s changing political attitude and role in the world post 9/11). However, Flag does not intend to take a particular point of view. The audience, hopefully, will make their own individual connections and realizations.
The Stars and Stripes is a march. Marches are by their nature dogmatic—the intention is to provide a sufficiently strong beat that a large group of people are compelled to keep in synchronized step and at the same time provide an intended forcefulness. Marches impart feelings of pride, hope, power, and even invulnerability. It is this nature I wished to address because it caused within me a powerful conflict—I like the music of marches, but dislike the intention behind them. Indeed, marches are some of the most popular of art music compositions.
Flag seeks to deconstruct the musical factors that create “march.” The challenge is to retain enough of the identity of the original march so that it acts as a foil against the transformations. The process of the deconstruction consists of a number of techniques including stretching and compressing of time, rhythmic alterations, pitch alterations, re-structuring of metric patterns, and others. Many of these techniques utilize or were inspired by computer technology, particularly Digital Signal Processing techniques.
The piece exists in several versions, each version is tailored for a specific venue/presentation format. Essentially, however, each version uses the same musical material. In the solo Disclavier and recorded versions the piece lasts 6 minutes long, the disclavier and piano or sampler versions can vary from 7-12 minutes (at the performers discretion), and the installation version runs on a cycle of 30 minutes (material is repeated but continuously re-ordered and transformed by computer processing).
The use of the Disclavier is essential. The Disclavier may best be described as a modern player piano (it uses MIDI rather than a punched roll of paper). Because of its mechanical nature it can “perform” super-human feats, such as impossibly fast trills and scales, and played chords that no one person could play. However, I also chose this instrument for aesthetic reasons. The mechanical nature ties into the mechanical nature of the march and because there is “nobody playing” the music, perhaps this provides a catalyst for interpretation.
Electronics, Nathaniel Tull Phillips