For Respiration, composer John Fitz Rogers grappled with the question, “How can we listen to each other over the internet and still feel like a community?” He found his answer by discovering anew what he loves about ensemble music-making: the simple act of interaction, not necessarily rooted in pulse or meter. Rogers abandoned rhythmic precision and developed an ingenious system of visual and aural cues that allows for organic, natural collaboration using the live remote platform Alarm Will Sound has pioneered. Gestures from Alan Pierson, AWS Artistic Director, coordinate the ensemble in the broad structures of the piece. Within these sections, performers are given instructions to listen for melodic voices (frequently performing improvised material) and align with them at specific, notated moments. The ebb and flow of energy through the piece, and the way that leadership moves around the ensemble creates a breathing-like experience of expansion and contraction.
The various definitions of the word “respire” were in Rogers’s mind when he composed Respiration, from the common usage to older ones including “to oppose or object to,” “to recover hope, courage, or strength,” and “to rest from toil or exertion.” Rogers also notes, “Given the isolation and turmoil we’ve all experienced this past year, I wanted to compose a work that encourages the performers to listen intensely to one another, striving together to create something both expansive and beautiful.”
Michael Harley, Alarm Will Sound bassoonist and Artistic Director of Southern Exposure New Music Series, interviewed John Fitz Rogers for Classical Post (Link here). The two discuss the inspiration for the piece as well as the difficulties Rogers faced composing a work meant to be played over the internet, a situation where traditional forms of musical communication like visual cueing are challenging if not impossible.
Respiration premiered on February 19, 2021 as part of a livestream event presented by the University of South Carolina’s Southern Exposure New Music Series. Alarm Will Sound will release the final version of the piece on March 30th at 11am ET.