Today marks the start of Lent, and for this year’s Lent Series i’m turning to the world of the small: miniatures. i’ve written in the past with no little enthusiasm about ‘epic’ compositions, but there’s something equally remarkable about a piece of music that’s able to convey something cogent in a seriously limited amount of time. i haven’t set myself a strict time-limit for the pieces featured in the series, though i suspect nothing longer than around three or four minutes.
To begin, a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it concert opener from Mexican composer Javier Álvarez. Composed in 1995, Álvarez’ electroacoustic piece Overture clocks in at a mere 70 seconds and it’s an exercise in exuberance. Álvarez utilises two very distinctive sound sources: a Mariachi band – reflecting Álvarez’ nationality – and a Volvo car, in homage to the Swedish Electroacoustic Music Instiute that commissioned the piece. Gestural flourishes from the band are turned into a fanfaric opening, answered by accents and electronic ringing, quickly expanded into short brass phrases that granulate, and subsequently processed into a complex, busy texture incorporating car horns (sounding as though the Road Runner were dashing around in the immediate vicinity). Álvarez uses the brass as an increasingly insistent motif, in conjunction with the accents heard at the opening, to build up a head-bangingly massive climax.
This performance took place in July 2011 at Electronica III, a concert given by the BBC Concert Orchestra bringing together electronic and electroacoustic pieces. As such, there’s some ever-so-slightly audible noise of the audience; an entirely clean version can be streamed via Álvarez’ SoundCloud page.
Javier Álvarez – Overture