In the first movement, AIRBORNE:
The percussionists have significant presence in the first and third movements, AIRBORNE, and MASKED. If possible, the timpani and mallet instruments should be located as close to the lip of the stage as possible to be best heard and seen, rather than remain buried in the back row.
Tempo is crucial, intended for a dizzying speed of quarter note = 160 or more. Please do not slow to anything less than quarter note = 155.
In the second movement, DISTANCED:
It is essential that the accompaniment track volume is set to be as loud as the ensemble.
Note for all wind players: Should a musician become short of breath on a long tone, they should fade out the note rather than re-attack. This will help maintain a smooth, unified block chord sound. Many notes are doubled in the track and/or with other instruments, so fading out will probably not adversely effect the harmony.
Flutists get to have some fun creating a new sound that Alex came up with when she composed her 2004 flute quartet, BIOPLASM, and subsequently used in her 2014 wind ensemble work LIQUID COMPASS: the "oo-wah" effect! Where noted in the score, the
"oo-wah" technique involves an eerie combination of blowing a note across the top of the embouchure and randomly altering fingerings for the note, while vocalizing. Any other musician not playing during these measures is encouraged to vocalize the "oo-wah" as well.
Rather than blow fully across the embouchure, tilt the flute slightly more toward the lips and quietly SING the notated pitch, at any comfortable octave, INTO the hole while creating a breathy flute pitch, and exaggeratedly moving the lips and saying, "oo-wah," at a slow-to-moderate random tempo.
The idea is to hear the fingered pitches as the note is being sung, thus producing a double-timbre that is further distorted by the "oo-wah" intonation. At the same time, randomly alter the fingering of the pitch with closed and open holes, to add further effect to the waves of undulating sound. Be sure to open and close the mouth widely when doing the "ooh wah," and keep the rhythm irregular.
In the third movement, MASKED:
Audiences should be able to see the visual element of the use of the ping pong balls. It's entertaining! And after the emotional intensity of the preceding two movements, a little levity will be welcome. Using brightly, or neon-colored ping pong balls would be a great choice.
For the percussionists:
Experimentation is good: begin with three different inverted cymbals atop the three timpani: a large China cymbal, a medium-large ride cymbal, and a medium-small splash cymbal, to offer contrasting timbres.
Here are some TRIO section (mm. 65-113) ping pong ball technique notes:
When playing the timpani with an inverted cymbal, players should drop the ball into the cymbal from just a few inches up to ensure it will not bounce out.
During the mallet percussion Trio section, percussionists should keep the ball close to the bar and use fingers as a "cage" to prevent the ball from straying or falling off the note.
Allow the ball to bounce as long as possible before capturing it for the next note.
Player will need to carry two mallets in one hand and play with ping pong ball in the other. If during the TRIO section there is any difficulty maneuvering two mallets, players may opt for one mallet, and play the highest note in an octave.
It is highly recommended that each ping pong ball virtuoso keep several back-up ping pong balls atop a felt covered table or music stand immediately in reach, to avoid the hilarity that will ensue should a ball go rogue and the player has to chase after it during the performance!
In the fourth movement, VIRAL:
Pointillistic and "zappy," the essence of VIRAL mirrors droplets of a virus being randomly spread--except with a hopeful, rather than lethal, ending. The Washington State Ferry and its syncopated engines provides the basis for the non-stop percussive trip.
Short bursts of double tonguing are tossed around the ensemble, creating a feathered and flitting texture for a trailing effect. This staggered effect is forgiving: if anyone starts on the wrong 16th beat it shouldn't matter too much, as long as they remain metronomically glued to the tempo, and blend dynamically with the track to be part of the fabric of the harmonic shifts.
The success of VIRAL hinges on a seamless balance between the track, which should be played loudly, and the ensemble, which serves as an additional set of colors and textures. The instruments should avoid sticking out from the ambience of the track until the A theme becomes major at measure 137, after which from there until the end, the band will have a fuller presence.
Close attention to articulations and dynamics is essential for the music to make sense. Every gesture of repeated notes that includes a dynamic swell or diminuendo must be interpreted as written, and even over-emphasized. In most cases, the sharp nature of a quick "zap" is desired, very much like a sound effect.
It's vital for the ensemble to remain in extremely tight sync with the track, and stay on top of the tempo. For the majority of the piece, musicians should think absolutely metronomically, and throughout, they must watch the conductor like a hawk. If at all possible, it is highly recommended that the percussionists be outfitted with earbuds that play the click, because the live ensemble will hear these instruments louder than they will be able to hear the accompaniment track through the stage monitors.
Conductor note: don't be misled by the many syncopations in the track, some of which are so heavy they might be felt as downbeats. It's tricky! The TRACK stave of the score indicates the audible downbeats, and the click track will be a reliable guide, with accented downbeats on every measure. Additionally, there is an optional vox guide track that can play along with the click, in which the rehearsal measures are enunciated to indicate score position, to avoid becoming momentarily disoriented.