String Quartet no. III, "Within West" (2015)

The third part in my string quartet tetralogy, Within West was commissioned and premiered by Friction Quartet, an adventurous group based in San Francisco.

Within West explores tension between multiple layers of counterpoint. I first worked to create a new digital instrument in order to compose the harmony. I made a four-voice synthesizer that is not limited to any tuning system. I slowly wrote counterpoint, moving one voice at a time using intuition. This completely free microtonal environment is filled with mysterious anomalies, quasi-tonal chords, strange modulations, and all manner of curiosities. Familiar consonances began to sound alien, and there was a delightful sense of equality/evenness between many disperate chords. Working with such raw, indescribable material reminded me of seeing pictures in the clouds, or patterns in waves. Intuition was law. The other primary element of Within West is the focus on the right hand. There is a famous quote, "The left hand makes the notes, the right hand makes the music," which has been attributed to the fiddler David Marsh, among others. Indeed, the expression of stringed instruments is lead by the right hand holding the bow. This work asks the performers to carefully control the pressure, speed, and placement of their bows in order to achieve a variety of sounds. Mostly, this is focused on the tension and release of extra bow pressure, which changes independently of the pitch layer.

© 2019 by Ben Hjertmann, all rights reserved.