Alice Shields


Year: 2018

Duration (in minutes): 7'39;

Difficulty: High (professional)

Publisher: American Composers Edition

Description: Larynx was composed for Chris Graham and Iktus Percussion. It’s a 7 minute long piece for piccolo, piano, and three percussionists who play glockenspiel, triangle, crotales, vibraphone and xylophone. I chose these instruments for their different abilities to create sustaining sounds or initiate attack sounds. On one end of this spectrum is the piccolo, which can fully sustain sounds, but doesn’t have much attack sound. On the opposite end is the xylophone, which being a wood instrument doesn’t sustain sound at all, and exists only as an attack sound. In between is the piano, which can sustain sounds or not sustain them, and can have either a strong attack or very little attack. The remaining instruments, when struck, increase their length of sustain from the least, glockenspiel, to triangle, vibraphone and crotales, which can resonate almost forever. About halfway through my piece, some of these metal instruments start being bowed instead of struck, and then they produce fully sustaining sounds rather like a human voice. Each section of the piece is a little dance of different sustains and attacks exchanged between all these instruments. They all coordinate with the piccolo, creating little melodies together that are punctuated by bursts of attacks like firecrackers or lightning bugs.
Why the title, Larynx? ---Because I use all these instruments as if they were voices in a small chorus of individuals, initiating and sustaining speech and song as well as they can. To speak is an elaborate neurological dance between initiating and sustaining sound in order to purvey the melody of a thought. If you’re a percussion instrument, it’s hard to speak. It’s even harder to sing. But as with humans, if you do what you are best capable of, and combine with others who have different capabilities, you have your best chance of creating melodies together.

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