Julien Malaussena’s Introduction Au Timbre Et À L’énergie is a short etude for three guitars that uses few musical elements to generate an impressively diverse array of sounds. The French composer begins the piece with the three guitarists pick scraping down the strings to an accented stop. From just this, the primary materials explored in this piece are given to the listener: string scraping and accents. There is a really admirable economy to the musical language of this piece. By using such a limited number of gestures, the piece develops clearly and coherently while allowing Malaussena dig deeply into and move in a number of vibrant places with each of them.
String scraping manifests itself in many different ways through the piece. While at the beginning the sliding pick scrape is fast and aggressive in sound, it becomes morphed into a much more ethereal, very soft scrapes at the 8” mark. At 28”, in a beautifully ephemeral moment, the scrapes become transformed into just the sound of the hand moving along the string. At 31”, he takes the initial intensity of the gesture but changes the rate of the scrape to a grindingly slow speed. This is a fantastic effect as you can hear the picking device used (whether nails, finger pick, regular pick, or something else entirely) grating against each coil of wound steel as they move both up and down the string.
The implications of these scraping techniques lead to Malaussena into glissandi. The initial downward sliding scraping gesture brings with it the idea of moving from point A to point B in register in a seamless fashion much like a glissando would. In the section from 31” to 1’13” the slow scraping begins to generate actual discernible pitch that brings the idea of glissandi even more to the ears of the listener. So when Malaussena introduces a true glissando at 1’15” it comes as a natural extension of the previous music on one hand because it is a further elaboration on the sliding gestures from before while on the other hand it is still a pleasant surprise to the listener because such definite pitch content has largely been eschewed up until this point in the music.
Outside of the original motive of the piece of downward slides into accents, the accents have taken a relative backseat to the other aspects of the music. In a very cool way, Malaussena segues into accent heavy music by introducing the more concrete pitches found in the true glissandi that begin at 1’15”. By giving these glissandi explicit pitch, it allows him to use accented low sonorities at 1’28” because the music is heavily using pitch as a device. It also serves as a nice contrast because they bring such intensity in comparison to the very humorous higher tessitura glissandi.
Its a fantastic moment at 1’33” when these accents are used to then connect back to the opening gesture. He uses the accented sonorities to serve as the beginning of the downward sliding scrape into the not really pitched accent. I also love at 2’07” when the sonorities are allowed be sustained for the first time in the piece. The texture, for a moment, becomes stretched and the listener is finally able to linger for a moment before the final held chord begins a protracted upward gliss. A prolonged grating upward scrape interspersed with relatively unpitched accents ties the materials together in one last way before a final statement of the original motive brings the piece to a great energetic close.
I really enjoyed this short little piece for guitars. The depth of the motivic exploration was very interesting both to listen to and to think about! I hope you enjoy the music as well.
Thoughts on the music? Feel free to comment below!