Clarence Barlow

Clarence Barlow

Barlow is a composer of works that are affectionately traditional and deeply seditious.  The Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles premieres

An internationally recognized pioneer of electroacoustic, computer and interdisciplinary music, Clarence Barlow has created exquisite algorithmic compositions for traditional instruments and electronic devices since the 1970s. Looking to the Calcutta-born composer’s most recent body of work, the UC Santa Barbara ensemble-in-residence Now Hear, conducted by Brandon J. Rolle, is performing a selection of instrumental pieces as part of a program that also includes several multitrack electronic compositions. A screening of Barlow’s films precedes the concert. Barlow has held the Corwin Chair in Composition at UCSB since 2006, following longstanding professorships at European institutions such as the Cologne Music University and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. There, he co-founded GIMIK: Initiative Musik und Informatik Köln, and served as artistic director of the Royal Conservatory’s Institute of Sonology. 

7:00 pm Film Screening

8:30 pm Concert

UCSB Corwin Chair of Composition Prof. Clarence Barlow specializes in algorithmic composition for manually played instruments and electronic devices. Almost a year ago, a festival of his work was organized in Cologne, Germany, to celebrate his 70th birthday. A choice selection of these works - instrumental compositions performed by UCSB’s Now Hear ensemble and special guests conducted by doctoral composition student Brandon J. Rolle, as well as electronic works and films - will be presented in a viewing and a concert. The concert pieces, all composed in the current century, are the ensemble works Sachets des Ciseaux Insatiables, Septima de facto, Für Simon Jonassohn-Stein, vinte e cinco anéis and )ertur( as well as two solo pieces with fixed media, Pinball Play for clarinet and …until…#10 for double bass. In between these, the electronic pieces Four ISIS studies, Songbird’s Hour Octasected and 13C2=∫φn are interspersed. Various films by Barlow will be presented in a separate showing before the concert.


Uccelli Ungheresi (1988) [4’]
This (“Hungarian birds” in Italian) is a three-part video film, which again is the third and final part of the composition Fruitti d’Amore for cello and electronics, written in 1988 for Frances-Marie Uitti. In this film three “stanzas” are formally followed each time by a “refrain”, itself showing the same dual structural division by a fractal layering extending downwards into microtemporal levels. Visual content is supplied by the video material, essentially depicting carnal greed for power.

Estudio Siete (1995) [2’]
To celebrate 100 years of film, the sound track of this film (“Study No.7” in Spanish) was commissioned in 1995 by the Kunsthalle (the state-run Art Hall) in Bonn to accompany Oskar Fischinger’s 1930 film Study No.6. One layer of the music paraphrases Study No.6 by Conlon Nancarrow, whose aesthetically unproblematic technical brilliance resembles that of Fischinger. The other layer is a metamorphosis of Fischinger’s dancing objects, effecting a “physiophonetic” correspondence between the objects’ shapes and the resulting tone-cloud’s sound color. In 2015, rights-related friction with people in the Fischinger Foundation led me to completely replace the video track with one of my own making, while still referring to Fischinger’s objects.

Kuri Suti Bekar (1998) [3’]
Written in 1998 for the pianist Kristi Becker, it originated as a piano piece comprising a 12-second prelude (a sonic transcription of the words クリスティ ベッカロ [ku-ri-su-ti bek-ka-ro], “Kristi Becker” in Japanese Katakana script), followed by a chaconne in which a photograph of Ms. Becker’s face is graphically reconstructable by laying all ten 16-second cycles on top of each other. Shortly after completing the music, I made a film displaying the compositional process, which after all had had the visual as its origin.

Les Ciseaux de Tom Johnson (1998) [3’]
This piece (“the scissors of Tom Johnson” in French) was written for composer Tom Johnson’s 60th birthday in 1998. “Ciseaux” refers to the composer’s age (“six-O” in French) and to a diagram with six circles along which the letters of his name, written orthographically from left to right and alphabetically from bottom to top, are allowed to move. 91 shifts each form a mini-score which overlaps with the others while keeping all “O O O” chains (the three “O”s in the composer’s name) equidistant in time.

Zero Crossing (2001) [41’]
From 11/23/99 to 2/11/00 I physically went westwards around the Earth within a belt 30° wide, north of a great circle passing near Cologne, Germany (where the trip started and ended) and Wellington, New Zealand. Every day at the same stellar time (a stellar day is 23h 56m) I made a digital audio and video recording. In 2001 the sound material was edited and assembled to form a 41-minute piece reflecting the above rounding. In 2015 this piece formed the sound track for a film made by editing and assembling the video recordings. The title refers to crossing the mean position of a sound wave as well as the Greenwich Meridian, the Equator, the Dateline and midnight between 1999 and 2000 (twice, in New Caledonia and again in Tahiti). 


Sachets des Ciseaux Insatiables (2002) [9’]

This piece (“bags of insatiable scissors” in French) is an arrangement for septet of three earlier pieces of mine, 1. Sachets de la famille (from Im Januar am Nil for chamber ensemble, 1984), entirely pentatonic with a Sibelius quote leading to a pistol shot and further quotes from Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky played on the clarinet, 2. Les Ciseaux de Tom Johnson (1998), written to celebrate that composer’s 60th birthday as a geometric treatment of his written name, and 3. Elle l’a vue, elle l’a bue, la pomme insatiable (from Four Identical Pieces for piano, 1995), with tango-like 3:4 rhythms and quotes from Bizet and the Beatles. It was premiered by Ensemble Correspondance in 2002 in Aachen, Germany.

Septima de facto (2006) [6¾’]

This piece (“the 7th in fact” in Spanish) was written in 2005, based on a song by the artist Prince: on the one hand it derives from the song’s harmony (grammatically extended to include the interval of the natural 7th) and meter (curtailed to 7/8) and on the other from the phonetics of the song’s text (a spectral analysis was converted into instrumental sounds). It ends with a minor 7th in the 7th minute. Though primarily intended for a tone-system of 17 equal steps per octave, it can be rendered in other tunings such as those with 12 – such as here – or 24. It was arranged for an ensemble of 7 musicians in April 2006 and premiered in this form by Ensemble S.L.Á.T.U.R. in Reykjavik on 07/07/07.

vinte e cinco anéis (2010) [1’]

This piece (“25 rings” in Portuguese, a pun on vinte e cinco anos or “25 years”) makes use of a special tuning: a minor seventh (which forms the total pitch range) divided into 14 equal steps forming 15 pitches. Flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano each repeatedly play only three of these 15. An initial chorale evolves through 25 changing almost-repetitions into a “chromatic” scale. It was written to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Miso Ensemble, who premiered it in June 2010 in Cascais, near Lisbon.

Für Simon Jonassohn-Stein (2012) [5’]

This piece was generated by my method of chorale synthesis, based on the “multidimensional scaling” (MDS) of harmonically rationalized pitches. After studying MDS maps I made of a Bach chorale, I defined two simple rules for synthesizing a chorale: 1. The harmonicity of a chord randomly chosen from any MDS pitch map is proportional to the indispensability of the pulse on which it is to be played, 2. every chord and the one following share a note in common. “Harmonicity” and “indispensability” are mathematical concepts I defined in 1978 for harmony and meter. Based on these rules, the piece was written for a computer-driven pipe organ in Cologne in the church of St. Peter (the Rock) aka “Simon, son of Jonas” (hence the title “for Simon Jonasson-Stone” in German). Premiered there in 2012, I arranged it for ensemble in 2015-16.

)ertur( (2015) [16’]

Written for a showing of Raj Dhawan’s collection of Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) paintings, this piece is based on the music of Mucha’s friend and Moravian compatriot Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). 37 selected Mucha paintings are matched by excerpts of 37 Janáček pieces, many of them movements of larger works. Each painting’s size dictates the length of the music selection. A sharp movie clapperboard crack precedes each section. At first the music is limited in range to a minor 7th (as in vinte e cinco aneis – the tuning and instrumentation is identical), which gradually expands to four octaves. Each Mucha work is shown first only with its most widespread color, the rest in grey. During the run of each Janáček music, the colors expand in range, starting at the image middle and moving outwards, to finally include all original colors. The piece was premiered in January 2017 by Ensemble Now Hear in Fullerton, California, conducted by Brandon J. Rolle.


Pinball Play (2010) for clarinet [8’]

As in Für Simon Jonassohn-Stein, this piece is based on the multidimensional (MDS) scaling of pitches, in this case the Bohlen-Pierce scale spanning two adjacent perfect twelfths, each divided into 13 equal parts. Four straight lines are repeatedly projected at various angles into the MDS pitch square, each from a different side. If a line meets a pitch, the latter is sounded and the line is deflected, possibly to a spatially nearby pitch, which is also sounded. This process is repeated until a path is re-traversed or the line exits from the diagram. These constantly varying trajectories, not unlike those in a pinball game, generate melodies distributed among four clarinets, one for each side of the diagram. The piece was premiered in Boston in March 2010; this version is for one clarinet and three sound tracks.

…until…#10 (2015) for double bass [17¾’]

This piece was conceived in 1972 essentially as a cycle of pitches, their frequency initially consonant as superparticular ratios (small n:n+1) to a drone, but gradually increasing in dissonance. At the final, most dissonant stage, a small drone shift reveals the cycle now as a phase-shifted transposition of the original. This “minimal” piece exists as an instructional text as well as ten realizations for 1. low instruments  (1972), 2. high instrument(s) (1973), 3. North Indian instruments (1974), 4. jazz ensemble (1974), 5. piano (1974), 6. clarinet (1977), 7. guitar (1981), 8. piccolo (1981), 9. fixed media (1995) and 10. double bass (2015). Version 10 goes in its ratio-based microtonality as far as the prime number 11, further than in earlier versions. And: as otherwise only in #2, all rhythms are precise, here comprising all permutations of note/rest durations of one to three 16th notes within a complicated constraint system. It was premiered in February 16th in Los Angeles by Scott Worthington.


Four ISIS studies (2003-8) [5½’]

This is a four-section work employing ISIS (“Intra-Samplar Interpolation of Sinusoids”), an electroacoustic technique I developed in 2001 for transforming any sound wave into a sine-tone sequence: 1. Für Gimik: Vortrag über ISIS, from a recording of me talking in German about the ISIS technique,  2. Eleven Steps in Staying a Kingly Dream, from 11 fragments of a famous speech by Martin Luther King, 3. Untitled/Oil on Metal, Wood, from a recording made of an unoiled creaking door at the Berlin public library during the International Computer Music Conference 2000, and 4. Ceci n'est pas une œuvre d'art, from synthetic speech reciting “this is not a work of art”. The four sections were premiered at different times.

Songbird’s Hour Octasected (2011/13) [7½’]

This is a 2013 version of the 2011 hour-long piece Songbird’s Hour (see below). That work was cut into eight sections of equal duration, layered in eight simultaneous channels with differing fades. Thus different phases of the earlier work can be compared with each other. Songbird’s Hour itself is an unfolding of an algorithmic process that moves from initial hectic twittering to final dissipation and decay over the course of an hour. The compositional algorithm, based on the ISIS technique also used to compose the Four ISIS studies, generated a monaural train of sine tones interrupted by silences ranging from a few seconds to four, six and even sixteen minutes’ length. The piece was premiered in Seoul, Korea, in 2013.

13C2=∫φn (2016) [8⅔’]

This piece (the title is pronounced “two out of thirteen Stephan”) is one of a series of 12-channel pieces all using one common fade-in-fade-out plan based on a permutation of the 78 combinations of 2 out of 13: in every one of the 78 equally-long sections, exactly two of 13 tracks (one of which is silent) are at their maximum. The material used in this piece was realized at MIT Cambridge in 1982 by my friend the composer Stephan Kaske (1962-85) before his tragic death in a car accident. It was intended for a composition entitled Still Life, which was completed in 2016 by composer Curtis Roads using his own selection of the material; it was this piece that inspired me to compose 13C2=∫φn. The piece was premiered in a stereo version in November 2016 in Munich, Germany.

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SAT 4/8
7:00 pm 
Film Screening

8:30 pm


G - General Audience

M - REDCAT Members

ST - Students

CA - CalArts Students/Faculty/Staff