strange geometry was commissioned by Morgan Griffiths and the Hammonds Saltaire Band for their performance at the Brass in Concert Championships of 2015.
As a bit of a space/sci-fi geek, as well as a musician, two events during the summer of 2015 had a particular effect on me. The first was the tragic early death in a plane crash of the famous film composer James Horner. Horner’s music, particularly in films like ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’, ‘Avatar’, ‘Apollo 13’ and even his debut in Roger Corman’s 1980 budget film ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’, defined for a generation the sound of sci-fi at the cinema. Along with John Williams he created the vocabulary for those who wish to express other-worldly wonder in music and his inventive talent will be much missed in an industry where originality has become something of a dirty word in recent years.
The second event was the epic flyby of Pluto by the NASA New Horizons spacecraft. There are many reasons to find this mission inspiring – for example, the scientists and engineers behind it created a craft that has travelled at 37,000 mph for nine years and three billion miles to arrive within seventy-two seconds of the predicted time for the flyby. That they achieved this with such accuracy is an outstanding tribute to humanity’s ingenuity and insatiable curiosity. However, the most exciting aspect of the mission was the clear, high resolution pictures of this unthinkably remote and inhospitable world beamed back to mission control. The best previous image of Pluto was an indistinct fuzzy blob – suddenly we could see mountains made of ice, glaciers of methane and carbon monoxide and nitrogen fog – features previously unimagined on a world thought to be a slightly dull ball of cold rock. The BBC’s venerable astronomy programme ‘The Sky at Night’ waxed lyrical about these newly discovered features, referring to ”the surprising discoveries of mountains and strange geometry on the surface of this cold distant world”.
I like to think that Horner would have been as inspired as I have been by this real-life science story, and this piece uses some of the vocabulary of the sci-fi movie soundtrack in a tribute to the memory of a great musician and to the inspirational geeks at NASA who have boldly taken us where no-one has gone before.
Note: This work comes with a B4 portrait score. Listen to a preview and follow the music below!
The cornet section should play this piece standing up in a roughly semicircular arrangement around the outside of the band facing towards the audience, starting with solo cornets 1&2 to the conductor’s left (roughy behind the normal repiano cornet seat) then 2nd cornets, repiano, soprano, 3rd cornets and finishing with solo cornets 3&4 standing roughly behind the normal 2nd trombone seat. If time and logistics permit, the trombones should occupy the first three solo cornet seats, although this is optional. A suggested band layout (with percussion) is given here.
Solo cornets 1&2, repiano cornet, 2nd cornets, 3rd cornets, flugel, solo and 1st horn, 1st baritone and euphoniums will require fibre straight mutes – ideally NOT metal ones. Soprano cornet, all solo cornets, 3rd cornets and all trombones will require cup mutes – ideally the cornet mutes should be the adjustable cup type and these should have the cup adjusted quite tight to the bell to give a ‘closed’ sound. Soprano cornet, solo cornet 3&4 and repiano cornet will require harmon mutes – TE indicates ‘Tube Extended’, TR indicates ‘Tube Removed’. Soprano and repiano cornets will also require metal straight mutes. Vibrato should only be used very sparingly throughout, and never in muted passages.
- Percussion 1: tubular bells, concert bass drum (not a kit pedal drum), tam tam, clash cymbals, 3 x tom toms, 1 x suspended (clash) cymbal and snare drum.
- Percussion 2: vibraphone (bowed and with mallets), bass drum and tam tam (shared with perc. 1), additional suspended (clash) cymbal and snare drum.
- Percussion 3: glockenspiel, 4 x timpani (ideally 23”, 25”, 28” and 30”)
Approximate duration 5’50”