The heart in the machine
By now, Lawrence Casserley has established himself as one of the most
stimulating composers and performers in the British music scene. Sprung
from the avantgarde and experimental circuit of the 1960s, his musical
output has grown steadily over the past 36 years, covering a wide range of
instrumental forces from orchestra and chamber works through to
electroacoustic. It is however in the latter medium that Casserley has
managed to maintain a distinctly uncompromising profile throughout the
years. And when so many composers embraced the safety of the tape medium,
he courageously continued to choose the more risky and adventurous path
Unlike many other musicians working in this field, the electronic medium
is for Casserley a physical extension of the musical mind and body -
Marshall McLuhan's claim that 'technology is the natural extension of
man' finds here an admirable example. There is always a natural cohesion
between, say, a guitar and its electronic counterpart: one may be the
transformation of the other, but the two sources are always one
instrument. It is this unity that makes Casserley's performances so
intriguing. And in the hands of the wizard, electronics become
powerful means of expressivity and lyricism taking the listener through
labyrinths of sound.
John Palmer, May 1999
Music of Lawrence Casserley
"...a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times...
approached one another, forked, broke off,
or were unaware of one another..."
Borges, 'The Garden of Forking Paths'
Labyrinth (1989, revised 1998) 21'20"
Simon Desorgher, Flute and Live Computer Processing
Lawrence Casserley, Percussion, Voice and Live Computer Processing
Recorded 6 September, 1998 at the Colourscape Music Festival, London
The Garden of Forking Paths (1996) 20'40"
The Pavilion of the Limpid Solitude
The Labyrinth of Time
Richard Durrant, Guitar
Lawrence Casserley, Live Computer Processing
Recorded 8 June, 1997 at Sallis-Benney Theatre, Brighton
The Monk's Prayer (1987) 10'35"
Simon Desorgher, Bass Flute
Lawrence Casserley, Live Computer Processing
Recorded 31 December, 1998 at Coloma School, Croydon
Vista Clara (1982) 13'29"
Carol Morgan, Piano
Lawrence Casserley, Live Computer Processing
Recorded 7 December, 1997 at Gateway Studios, Surrey
Engineer, Steve Lowe
Total Time 66'27"
Labyrinths have always fascinated me; I have a love of complexity and
ambiguity, and my music has always tried to follow paths where it was not
clear in which direction they might lead. Most particularly, the idea of
a space of many dimensions, including time as another kind of space, has
been an important element in my thinking for many years.
Since the late 1960s my work for instruments with live electroacoustic
processing has frequently placed the musician in the centre of a
'labyrinth' of sound. Typically the nature of this 'labyrinth' is closely
involved in the musical idea. I think of myself not only as a composer,
but as an instrument designer. For each of these pieces I have designed a
computer instrument that is intimately linked to the acoustic instrument
in order to articulate the musical ideas. The instrument and the piece
are one concept.
With hindsight it is easy to find the labyrinth in much of my music, but
it was not until the 1980s that I began to explore this theme
consciously. It was around this time that I discovered the work of Jorge
Luis Borges, a rich new source of articulations for my ideas. The four
pieces on this CD span the time from that moment to the present.
Vista Clara (1982) stands at the meeting point of these new ideas and the
'transformations' theme that dominated my work in the 1970s, and it
contains elements of both. In composing a work for my friend the
Venezuelan pianist Clara Rodriguez I sought to escape what I saw as a
serious limitation of the piano, its fixed temperament. So in Vista Clara
I used the juxtaposition of two different temperaments to generate a
transformed piano, both in pitch structure and in timbre. The piano is
ring modulated throughout, and the frequency of the modulating oscillator
changes at each section. The modulation frequencies are chosen from a
scale of twenty-one pitches per octave, and it is the varying degree of
'fit' between the two scales that determines the sound quality and the
tonal structure of the piece.
But I like to describe Vista Clara in quite another way. In the English
landscape gardens of the 18th century much use was made of a device
called a ha-ha, a ditch designed so that the garden appeared to continue
uninterrupted into the surrounding landscape, yet it prevented the cattle
from invading the garden and trampling on the flower beds. Long vistas
could be made, often with a distant obelisk or gothic ruin at the end.
Vista Clara is a bit like this - it sets off determinedly in a certain
direction, only to find the way to the apparent end of the vista blocked
by a ha-ha; so it turns and strikes off in a new direction toward a new
vista. After several such twists and turns it tries to return to where it
started, but there is another ha-ha, and that way too is blocked. This is
already a kind of labyrinth.
By The Monk's Prayer (1987) the labyrinth is at the heart of the concept.
This piece is part of a music-theatre work, 'The Unending Rose', composed
for the Electroacoustic Cabaret. The title is that of a Borges poem which
contains the lines: "Your fragile globe is in my hand; and time is
bending both of us, both unaware, this afternoon, in a forgotten garden".
One of the characters in the theatre piece is a monk,"who kneels at a
prayer desk and intones a long prayer on a bass flute, which spreads like
ripples over water". This 'prayer' consists of a long melody with a
series of optional decorations. The flautist plays the melody once
without decoration and then repeats it a number of times with gradually
increasing use of the decorations. Once again I have used a richer
palette of intervals, this time based on quarter-tones.
The sound is fed to a complex delay system, but the labyrinthine delays
are only one element; the melody and its decorations form another kind of
labyrinth, where the melody folds back on itself and the decorations
provide links to other parts of the melody. The multiple layers of
quarter-tones build rich sound complexes that explore the borders between
harmony and timbre.
Labyrinth (1989), a music-theatre work composed for Colourscape, a
walk-in sculpture of colour, is a labyrinth on several levels. Musicians,
dancers and mime artists move among the audience in the 'labyrinth' of
Colourscape, retelling the myth of the Minotaur, a story with many layers
of meaning. This piece uses two processing networks (or labyrinths), one
to process gongs and voice, the other to process flute. These networks
evolve gradually with little intervention, and the players respond to the
changing processes, as well as to each other.
The processed gongs represent the sound of the labyrinth itself echoing
through the space (in performance many speakers are used). Presently a
strange voice is heard - the Minotaur, who inhabits the labyrinth. The
Minotaur's text is another Borges inspiration, consisting entirely of
questions: How? Where? When? etc, and above all Why? Theseus is a flute,
but a flute with electroacoustic transformations that mask and extend his
original sounds. He enters the labyrinth, cautiously at first, gradually
becoming more aggressive. Finally there is a confrontation with the
Minotaur, which leads through conflict to a kind of resolution. I imagine
this as a ritual moment in some larger cycle of existence.
Here, as in 'Vista Clara', I have used the computer processing to enrich
the pitch palette - due to the complex delays and frequency shifts each
gesture of the performers results in the production of many different
The Garden of Forking Paths (1996) returns once more to Borges and to the
labyrinth. In this story he presents the idea of a labyrinth "forking in
time, not in space...an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying
net of divergent, convergent and parallel times". The computer instrument
for this piece is more complex. There are three separate, but related,
instruments, corresponding to the three sections, each growing out of a
quotation from the story:
1) "A high-pitched, almost Syllabic Music approached and receded in
the shifting of the wind".
2) "The Pavilion of the Limpid Solitude stood in the centre of a
3) The Labyrinth of Time "I leave to the various futures (not to all) my
Garden of Forking Paths".
The labyrinth of time is one of Borges' most beautiful and powerful
conceptions. The Garden of Forking Paths represents a culmination of the
labyrinth idea in my music. Here, the long-held vision of a labyrinth
"forking in time, not in space" has found some form of realisation. Where
will it lead from here? I can only "leave to the various futures (not to
all) my Garden of Forking Paths".
Carol Morgan's great intelligence and experience, coupled with formidable
technical skills, were ideally suited to mastering the complexities of
'Vista Clara'. Since leaving the Royal College of Music in 1964 she has
lived and worked in Germany and Austria, where she has specialised in the
performance of contemporary music, both as a soloist and in ensembles.
She is particularly known for her close association with Roman
Haubenstock-Ramati, whose piano works she has recorded.
Simon Desorgher has been a close friend and collaborator since we met at
the Royal College of Music in 1970. Together, we have designed, built,
composed for and performed on the world's largest set of pan pipes;
created the Electroacoustic Cabaret and the Colourscape Music Festivals;
appeared on television in several countries performing on his vintage
Panther motorcycle. It is sufficient to say that, without Simon, none of
these things would have happened, and some of these pieces would not
I first met Richard Durrant when he was a student at the Royal College of
Music and a member of my electronic music and improvisation classes.
Since that time he has established himself as a player with a rare
breadth of experience, including folk, classical and contemporary. His
abundant enthusiasm for new challenges is an inspiration (scordatura in
quarter-tones caused no qualms); 'The Garden of Forking Paths' was
written especially for Richard.
Technical Note - All the pieces on this CD were performed using
instruments created in MAX on the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation
and/or MAX/msp on a MacIntosh computer. Vista Clara, The Monk's Prayer
and Labyrinth were written originally for other systems, then recreated
and improved using the ISPW. The Garden of Forking Paths was created for
the possibilities of the ISPW.
© Lawrence Casserley 1999
Vista Clara, The Monk's Prayer and The Garden of Forking Paths are
published by Edition HH, 68 West End, Launton, Oxon OX8 0DG, UK. Complete
performing material including the MAX/msp programs is available.
The Altus bass flute played in 'The Monk's Prayer' was supplied by Just
Flutes of Croydon.