North of All Music (Binary Étude 2) is the second piece in an ongoing project which reexamines the historical development of brass instruments in an attempt to write the music that would be heard in an imaginary past. Early horns and trumpets were only capable of playing a handful of pitches that corresponded to the size and physical properties of each instrument. These pitches are the most natural, resonant sounds these instruments can produce, but many of the unusual intervals created by these pitches are completely foreign to standard Western scales.
In the nineteenth century, valves were added to brass instruments, which made the entire Western chromatic scale available to them and rendered their tuning irregularities a thing of the past (ideally). In the privacy of the practice room, however, every brass player today still wrestles with the historical burden of the physical properties of these metal tubes. The old intervals and pitches are still there, but they are now actively avoided in order to fit into a harmonic language that is best suited to pianos and other keyboard instruments.
North of All Music (Binary Étude 2) echoes out from an imaginary gap in history, a lacuna that never occurred after the advent of valves (and the expanded harmonic palette they provide) but before the total abandonment of the sonic peculiarities of natural brass instruments. It is a sound-world that is both alien and extremely intimate, and it is a search for strange, fleeting beauty within this limited and (perhaps) barren sonic environment.
Binary Étude 2 was commissioned and premiered by Steven Darling. The title North of All Music is taken from an English translation of a Swedish haiku by Tomas Tranströmer.
released May 8, 2013
Steve Darling, euphonium
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