Original TS programme notes

World Music is a large-scale composition for alternating sections of tape and instrumental music which converge at the end. The piece was begun when I was composer-in-residence at King’s College Cambridge. Most of the instrumental music was written straight away but it was not until the end of 1973 that I could begin to realise the tape part of the composition. At that time I was living in Cologne and the West German Radio commissioned me to make the tape part in the Studio for Electronic Music. This took about four months. The first performance of the whole composition was given by Intermodulation in the Beethovenhalle, Bonn, in December 1974 as part of the West German Radio’s series of public concerts ‘Musik der Zeit’. The new scoring for eight players was completed in January 1980.

Although the instrumental parts were written first, the initial idea for World Music relates to the tape part. In 1971 I had the idea of writing several musical orbits of the earth, as if a satellite were encompassing the earth in 360 seconds (= 360 degrees of a circle), its path over the various countries, seas, oceans and islands suggesting (or rather determining) certain kinds of material, certain formal proportions.

I planned out three orbits as accurately as possible with the help of a globe. The first runs from Seattle, Washington, on the North-West Coast of the USA in a south-easterly direction; the second runs from Vienna in a southerly direction and the third from the island of Bali in a north-westerly direction.

In the orbits, I have not used any music from the countries overflown (a kind of noise pollution in the reverse) but used the concept as a means of finding certain formal proportions in the music (the sudden rush of activity and change characteristic of the land-masses gives way to the immense calm of the oceans in all the orbits) and of finding an instrumental sound as typical material for electronic transformation on tape in each orbit.

The train of thought by which each instrumental colour is arrived at in each orbit is rather complex. In the first I chose the electric guitar, the single notes extended by means of feedback. Seattle was the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix (to whose memory World Music is dedicated) and fedback guitar was elevated by him into a subtle, not just a violent, form of expression. But his shadowy role in World Music is manifold.

I always thought of Hendrix as a ‘natural’ spaceman, somebody who would be truly ‘at home’ in space, although the idea of him ever having made it out there is absurd to us. Nevertheless in his short life he gave us more ideas of the space experience, even though he’d never been there, than all the banalities of the mid-western majors and flying laypreachers that the media treated us to. The phrase ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky’ from Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ echoes throughout World Music. Another structural function of the sound of the electric guitar in the first orbit is that it relates to the electric guitar writing for the live instrumentalists later in the work. The second orbit takes the viola as a referential sound. Vienna, the dead centre of Central Europe, is typified for me in the music of the classical string quartet, and again the connection is not arbitrary because most of the material of the instrumental sections of World Music is derived from the all-interval note-row which Alban Berg used in his Lyric Suite for string quartet. Tiny fragments of this work are also embedded in the electronic sections of World Music, and the sound of the live viola is never far away in the instrumental sections. In the third orbit the sonorous resonances of Balinese music are echoed in the gong-sounds which are superimposed, slowed down and speeded up on tape. Gong-sounds are also typical of the percussion writing in the instrumental sections of World Music. In one section we hear the ‘crossing’ of two elements of the piece: the exact rhythmic structure of a Balinese piece rendered in terms of dissonant harmonies derived from a serial note-row.

In fact the instrumental music is constantly referring to the structures and playing techniques of ‘world music’. We hear antiphonal music based exactly on the rhythmic structure of a particular piece of choral music from Ethiopia, heterophonic sections in which a single melodic line is played at different speeds by several players simultaneously, and music based on riffs common in jazz and rock music. In World Music the riffs sometimes accompany cadenzas in which each player in turn comes to the fore as soloist.

World Music is a huge complex of interrelationships which one cannot really make clear in words. But the basic idea which I hope will emerge from the 60 minutes is that the title is an ironic one. To stress this, in the closing section of the piece where tape and instrumentalists finally play together, I have included particularly banal and cant-ridden utterances from ex-Presidents Nixon and Johnson about the oneness of little old earth and how lovely it looks from out there ‘as God sees it’ (Nixon’s actual words).