QfwfQ takes its name from the inter-dimensional narrator of many of Italo Calvino’s short stories including Cosmicomics (1963-4), which describe the beginnings of the world using both scientific hypotheses and comic language. Like the unknowable, unpronounceable QfwfQ, who has experienced all of time and space, this piece explores multiplicities of being, paradoxes, and contrasts. The piece is scored for two alto instruments, or any treble instrument capable of reaching down to the G below middle C. The players read from a two-line score and can choose to switch parts at bar lines that demarcate sections of varying length. The two lines have contrasting characters and are each treated to different electronic manipulations that create multiple voices. The bottom line is lyrical, almost Romantic in character, and its electronics create a Bulgarian chorusing effect through time, pitch and timbre shifting. This chorusing effect can accrue up to 96 voices and is reset when performers switch parts. The top line has an angular, disjunct, and modern character and also includes occasional percussive sounds. The electronics loop some of the percussive sounds, and, by the end of the piece, these create a third drum line. In total, this single piece played by two instruments can ultimately evolve into as many as 99 possible lines, which can be in agreement or in conflict depending on the musical performance. Only at the center of the piece do the two instrumentalists play the same melody, in a “weeping” fado-like passage that briefly unifies the voices before they diverge again.
The multiphonic, indeterminate, and polystylistic character of this piece is best described in the story, “A Sign In Space,” a kind of parable of the postmodern condition. In it, QfwfQ makes a mark to note the revolution of the Sun around the Milky Way galaxy (the first sign ever made), only to find after many millennia that many others had also made similar signs and the original sign was gone. QfwfQ ruminates on the experience of looking at the marks of millions beings in space: “In the universe now there was no longer a container and a thing contained, but only a general thickness of signs, superimposed and coagulated… constantly being dotted, minutely, a network of lines and scratches and reliefs and engravings…”Special thanks to Matthew Blessing for his help with the chorusing patch and the reACT ensemble for commissioning / inspiring / workshopping the piece.