The Rocky Moon | John Abram

The Rocky Moon was written for flutist Elissa Poole in 1986 and revised in 1991. It was first performed by Ms. Poole with the composer on prepared guitar in Vancouver in 1986, and subsequently by Ms. Poole (sometimes with different guitarists) in other Canadian cities and in Australia, and by other artists in the U.S.A and Italy.

The guitar is prepared by attaching small alligator to the strings of the guitar, and much like the famous prepared piano of John Cage, this changes the sound of the instrument “with respect to all its characteristics.” I was compelled to try the alligator clips after hearing British avant-rocker Fred Frith do a similar thing with his electric guitar. The weight of the clips supplies a lower pitch component to the sound, the placement of the clip along the string’s length changes the intonation of the string (an octave is no longer an octave, and many of the resultant notes are non-tempered) and despite one’s best efforts to remain motionless, the clips wave around perpendicular to the strings - this makes a vibrato which is extremely difficult to control or predict. The sound reminds me somewhat of Javanese gamelan gongs - softer than their Balinese counterparts. This connection was an influence on the overall sound of The Rocky Moon - there are sinuous flute lines snaking around the often extremely repetitive guitar part.

The electronic component of the piece occurs in movements II and IV, which function as interludes betweenthe longer movements. These are slowed-down extracts from my composition Nature Pieces from 1985, which was made on the Buchla series 200 synthesiser at the UVic Electronic Music Studio.

The title is an oblique reference to another earlier piece Baroque for period instruments (recorder, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord.) I reasoned that the next piece should have something to do with the Rococo since historically that musical style followed the Baroque. The origin of the word Rococo has to do with rocks and elaborate ornamentation. My composition teacher Rudolf Komorous once remarked that it is difficult to distinguish on-beats from off-beats in the first movement of the piece, and that reminded him of a photograph of the moon, where you are not sure if you are seeing craters or mountains.

© John Abram 2017