Javier Alvarez – Pyramid

by 5:4

Something new i’m introducing this year is a 5:4 Advent Calendar. Over the next few weeks, in the run-up to the festive season, i’m going to briefly explore a collection of interesting, and in some cases neglected, musical delights. Many of them are miniatures, but one or two larger works might also appear from time to time.

Pyramid is a short work composed in 1995 by Mexican composer Javier Alvarez, for a variable number of melodic instruments with electronic sounds. It’s essentially comprised of two basic elements, a short descending motif that starts the piece, and a more generalised minimalistic group behaviour. The motif appears via (rather dated) synthetic clanging bells, leading to a short sequence where an irregular swaying kind of momentum slowly gets going. Once that’s achieved, a sense of irregularity remains, lending a slight hobbling quality to the music, while its harmonies slowly (and more smoothly) revolve round, seemingly clunking into new positions. Alvarez throws a spanner into his machine two-thirds of the way through, loud accents temporarily suspending almost everything, and after it eventually gets going again – lighter and clearer than before – the descending idea from the opening starts to reappear more and more, eventually taking over everything.

A cheerful slice of glittery playfulness, this performance of Pyramid was given on 9 June 2011 by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazelwood as part of the orchestra’s ‘Electronica III’ concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

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Ian Stewart

“The motif appears via (rather dated) synthetic clanging bells”

The few times I heard Javier Alvarez give talks (in the 1990s) he said he used a Yamaha FM synth module. That method of synthesis excels at bell-like sounds, which can sound dated to those of us who remember the Yamaha DX7 the first time round. However, to the upcoming producers, FM synthesis sounds new and doesn’t have the dated conotations. This may also be because the new FM synthesis modules – such as the Korg Volca FM or the Elektron Digitone – have a less obvious FM sound.
While not wanting to make firm predictions, I think the conceptual approach of many up and coming composers will also date quickly.

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