Lois V Vierk
for eight ryūteki flutes
Hyaku Man no Kyū (One Million Spheres) is for 8 ryūteki flutes, of the Gagaku Japanese court music ensemble. It employs Gagaku playing techniques and embraces the breathy sound of this bamboo instrument with large finger holes, lacquered inside and out. The work is also influenced by minimalist long-tone music, especially the beautiful and uncompromising walls of sound composed by Phill Niblock.
The work employs instruments in pairs. Ryūteki 1 and 2 begin with repeated short phrases sliding up to the pitch B in the midrange. There are pitch slides, breath accents and dynamic crescendo/decrescendo patterns. Gradually all the instrumental pairs enter - - ryūteki 3-4, 5-6, 7-8. All the pairs play the same material as 1-2 although with fewer repeats, in a kind of giant, slowly-moving canon. Pair 1-2 moves down in pitch, with repeated short phrases centered on A, G, F, E, as the other pairs follow. The pitches then push upward, with 1-2 moving through midrange pitches F, G, A, B and then ascending stepwise through the octave above, finishing in the highest register of the instrument and finally settling on high B. Again, all the other pairs follow, with fewer repetitions than the first pair.
I think of this piece as a pulsating and directional sound mass made of many parts, say a million, and that's the origin of the title. Each successive pitch center is allotted a shorter amount of time as the piece proceeds. The slowly changing sound mass moves from lower to higher energy with its movements through pitches and instrumental range, constantly developing phrases with more and more nuance, accents and articulations as the work moves towards its conclusion.
I wrote Hyaku Man no Kyū in 1983 during my 2-year stay in Tōkyō to study Gagaku with Mr. Sukeyasu Shiba, then the lead ryūteki player of the emperor's court orchestra, Kunaicho Gakubu. Previous to that I had studied Gagaku for 10 years in Los Angeles with Mr. Suenobu Tōgi, UCLA professor and previously also of the Kunaicho Gakubu. The work was premiered in New York City in 1983.
Recorded live in concert at the premiere on May 4, 1983 at Experimental Intermedia, New York City. One ryūteki was played live along with a tape of the 7 other parts, which had been recorded previously at India Navigation Studios, New York City. Live and recorded ryūteki parts performed by Lois V Vierk.