A Passage by Damon Ferrante

Non-diatonic Symmetries are a Sometime Thing

This is from Damon Ferrante's solo guitar piece, *Following the River*.

(work in progress)

I am preparing this work for a performance in Istanbul on May 22 of this year (2015).  I became familiar with Ferrante's music through his *Footbridge*, for two guitars--a symphony for two guitars, about 30 minutes long.  Here's a bit of it, live @ Symphony Space:




*Following the River* is brazenly diatonic, very American, an American Rheingold -- the same pitches returning often and with minimal changes of context, yet enough to keep the pitches fresh.  This Reingold mode in place until the passge in question, where changes of context are thrown at us in rich profusion.   The rhythmic figure we see in the first 2 beats of measure 57 occurs twice in earlier passages, always memorably, the top of an arc.  The first instance is followed by two measures of wonderful fall-out, keeping various threads of the moment echoing.  

In m. 57 the figure is memorable for the striking harmony that jumps out at us--Gb, C, F  which quickly dissolves into an a major 7 chord (Ebmaj7).

Bb major drops into the texture innocently in measure 52.   Two three bar phrases 52 through 54 and then 55 through 57 are very similar, yet the second 3 bar phrase heats up the references to the prevaling D major/B minor two which will will return.

Measures 56 and 57 offer a profusion in interval cycle ambiguity.   In measure 57 the first 6 notes are a whole tone scale with one note displaced by a semitone--Scriabin's mystic chord.   The wonderful thing about the mystic chord is that it is also 2/3rds of the octotonic symmetry with one note displaced by a semitone; and it is also a diatonic hexachord with one semitone displacement.  It is a near miss on three counts.  

The end of measure 56, with two 5ths a tritone apart  (Ab-Eb; D-A)  reminds me of early Carter.   They sometimes can work like this:  when two fifths a tritone apart are in close proximity to one another they start to serve as a signature of the octotonic symmetry, which then contend with the local diatonic (5th cycle) associations.  Here the feel is less than straight up bi-tonality.

The second beat of measure 57serves 3/4ths of that most striking symmetry--

the 0167

Present are Gb, C, F.    0167,  two fifths, a tritone apart.   To complete the picture we need Cb.  


As Frank Brickle remarked a few years ago, 0167 is a signature of the octotonic symmetry.   Here 016 is a signature of the octotonic and all but instates the symmetry.   The question is, how much is the preceding Bb erased  by this strong pull into the octotonic symmetry?

Moreover, just as subsets of the octonic symmetry pull the ear away from the octotonic, which I tried to explain here:


The Mystic chord is equally rich.  In the example it is the 016 trichord that pulls away, hard, from the diatonic associations, into the octotonic.   This is more true when the D that is ringing above has died away, which is the case here.  If the D were played by a sustaining instrument the whole-tone associations would predominate.  (I credit Robert Pollock for mentioning the interesting relationship between the Mystic chord and the octotonic.  I didn't not appriciate his insight at first, but I do  now, although it may be that I see it somewhat differently than Robert.)

The crux here is that fanciful folks start to talk about ghost tones.   We (I'm one of the fanciful folks) here [Gb, F, C] pulling away from the Bb through an association that is all but throwing a Cb at us.  The return of the Bbs at the end of the bar then quickly and blithely erases the ghost Cb.   [ HA! ]

I add Damon's ghost tones to a few other instances that I discovered in Brickle's music.  As for fanciful musical thinking, I contend that this is really no more fanciful that Nadia Boulanger's notion that a I 6/4 chord is so powerful that it influences how we heard harmonies that both precede and succeed it--the game that was played so well by Richard Strauss, Schumann and others.   May we think of 016 is the set class 6/4 chord?

A growing list of 21st C. composers shy away from surfaces where the octotonic scale predominates, which we associate with the 20th C.  They have this in common with Schoenberg, Babbitt, Carter, however, the youngish 21st Century composers are not interested in sounding like them either.  The 21st. C. composers might be said to be practicing *set class homophony*.

I discuss Brickle's ghost tones here: