for soprano saxophone, live electronics and three drummers

Tim Souster

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for soprano saxophone, live electronics and three drummers

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Composer Tim Souster
Year of Composition 1982
Duration ca.12'
Categories (all composers) , , , , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-ts1z1


The first stimulus to the composition of Zorna came from a BBC television documentary by Tom Mangold shown last summer [1973], on the global structure of drug trafficking and addiction. I was particularly struck by the irony of the situation revealed in the film whereby people in high places contrive with immense profit to transform the crops of the Thai or Turkish peasantry into a means of killing people on the streets of New York.

At about the same time as this film was shown I happened to make the acquaintance of the Turkish oboe (the zurna). Ever since then I knew I must write a piece in which these two stimuli would fuse into a single monochrome musical paroxysm. This eventually became Zorna.

I have always been stimulated by the act of transcribing unfamiliar musical phenomena. The transcriptions can serve as musical models which are subjected to very radical processes of transformation. In parts of Waste Land Music I refer to a piece of Japanese gagaku music. In Spectral to the song of the hump-backed whale, and in World Music to material from Ethiopia and Bali.

In the case of Zorna it is worth pointing out that the ‘source’ for my composition was a certain track on a Turkish record from the Argo ‘Living Tradition’ series. This is relevant here because I have not slavishly imitated it, as if I were putting an exhibit into a glass case. I have taken as a starting point the extraordinary ‘sound’ of this particular track rather than the music’s pitch structure or its rhythms. What impressed me most about the recording was the way in which the zurna creates a single melodic line of unflagging intensity; often sounding as though two or three instruments are playing at once, not quite in unison.

This suggested to me the use of a tape-delay system in conjunction with the soprano saxophone whereby the instrument’s own sound can be multiplied by a controllable number of times. In composing my paroxysm (NB the German for anger is Zorn), I was concerned to achieve a form which is at the same time strictly unitary and constantly evolving.

Written for Intermodulation and first performed by them at a BBC Promenade Concert in the Round House, London on 29 July 1974, broadcast live. The piece was then toured by Intermodulation on the Arts Council Contemporary Music Network.

Three drummers start playing at the back of the hall and gradually move around and through the audience on the way to the stage where they synchronise with each other and with the saxophone in metric music.

‘… another step in Souster’s search for music which carries a social message … in expressing vehement protest and in establishing a contrast between the free saxophone line and the rhythmic constraint of the drums, the piece has a good deal of success.’

– The Times 31 July 1974