for five players

Jeffrey Holmes

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for five players

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Composer Jeffrey Holmes
Year of Composition 2020
Duration ca.15'


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Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-jh1k1


Kaun (Kenaz), for 5 players, takes its name from the Old Norse Runic symbol for the sound or letter ‘K’ (Proto-Germanic: Kaunan). This symbol has both linguistic as well as esoteric and mystical meanings, wherein various dualities are imbedded: torch and flame – ulcer and disease; knowledge and inspiration – destruction and decay; flame of cremation – transformation and transcendence, etc.

My choice of this concept and title for this work is directly tied to the period of time when I was composing Kaun (Kenaz), the summer and fall of 2020. My family and I live on the top of a mountain, surrounded by ancient forest and wild animals, and throughout the summer of 2020 we had a record heatwave and a record number of forest fires. There were days when ash was falling from the sky, days when the smoke was thick both to see and to breathe, and many periods of time when we were waiting to see if we needed to evacuate to escape the encroaching flames…hence the connection to the term “torch”. Additionally, 2020 was the year of the worldwide pandemic, the plague, the year of the disease (Covid-19). So within this seemingly apocalyptic time, both the image of the torch as positive inspiration and as negative anxiety were at the forefront of daily life.

The musical manifestations of these ideas are multiple. Within this work there are moments of extreme deterministic complexity of rhythm, pitch, and meter, that contrast with indeterminate aleatoric sections with freedom of time and space. There exists equal temperament as well as various types of microtonalities: equal tempered divisions of pitches; approximated overtone tunings; and deliberate mistuning within the makeup of the ensemble itself. Throughout this work the flute and guitar are tuned to a specific overtone ratio that is lower than the piano, violin, and cello, the instruments are frequently asked to bend pitches to specific microtunings, and are asked to play harmonics that emphasize overtone partials other than the fundamental. All of these pitch complexities exist within my own personal “flat-octave” harmonic and melodic/motivic language…laid out on a landscape of formal design based on symmetries and kaleidoscopic micro- and macro- rhythmic and formal patterns, or “polyforms”. But the most obvious and engaging element of Kaun (Kenaz) is the dramatic and expressive flow of lyricism that evolves through various textures and registers, approaching and receding from violent and chaotic climaxes contrasted with moments of serenity.

Kaun (Kenaz) was composed in 2020 for Thierry Pécou and Ensemble Variances, with special thanks to Pierre Bibault.