Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance Donnacha Dennehy
SURFACE TENSION / DISPOSABLE DISSONANCE
Donnacha Dennehy’s Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance is named for the two single-movement compositions featured on the recording -- “Surface Tension,” which is performed by Chicago-based, Grammy-winning percussion quartet Third Coast Percussion, and “Disposable Dissonance,” which is performed by the Dublin-based and internationally renowned Crash Ensemble, which Dennehy founded. An article posted in PopMatters, the author notes that “Donnacha Dennehy creates two distinct worlds with his latest release…a result that is exotic, dense, and bold.”
Surface Tension / Disposable Dissonance opens with “Surface Tension”, which was inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s historic percussion collection. Dennehy explains, “I was inspired by the way various indigenous drums (such as the Irish bodhrán or Middle Eastern frame drums like the Turkish Tar) play with the tension of the skin in order to bend the pitch and produce something almost approaching melody, and sought a way of making so-called un-pitched drums ‘sing’ in their own way in this piece.” He continues,” I was particularly interested in creating a kind of mobile pitch-space that shifted in and out of various overtone-based tonalities.”
To accomplish this, Third Coast Percussion blows air into tubes attached to the side of the drums to stretch the drumheads and increase the harmonic range of the tom-toms -- a technique they learnt from Glenn Kotche. Naturally, the drums drift out of tune from the continuous tightening and slackening of their heads, so Dennehy also wrote “tuning zones” into the composition, where the players gently tune their drums in a rhythmic way using their normal technique of turning the tension rods. This allows Dennehy to gradually build pitch centers and explore the space between them, creating a kind of fused harmonic texture amplified by standard-pitched instruments such as the marimba or bowed vibraphone.
Dennehy’s “Disposable Dissonance” features three continuous sections driven by different concepts of dissonance, each one “disposing” of it in a different way. In the first section, Dennehy explores pitch suspensions by using overtones that creep into the harmony, then resolve the dissonance by going into lower overtones against the ensemble. In the second section, the concept of dissonance plays out entirely on an equal-tempered field with an ever-increasing use of rhythmic consonance and dissonance that ultimately reaches its peak in the third and final section. Dennehy wrote this version of the piece specifically for the unique instrumentation of the Crash Ensemble, which he founded in 1997 after returning to Ireland after studies abroad and has since performed many of Dennehy’s landmark works. Disposable Dissonance was originally commissioned by Icebreaker with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland. Crash Ensemble premiered the revised version of the piece at the Huddersfield Festival in the UK in November 2012.
The album is made possible in part from the University Committee on Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, Princeton University; Third Coast Percussion; and Crash Ensemble.