Portfolio 

Large Ensembles

Aedis - orchestra (2010, 8')
Composed for the National Broadcast Orchestra’s Galaxie Rising Star competition, in which it was awarded second prize. Performed on the NBO’s B.C. tour, Nov. 14-21, 2010. Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 64331 strings.

Aedis for chamber orchestra was composed as a reflection on the cyclical patterns of development found in human societies, as empires, institutions, and ideologies are built up, reach their apex, and eventually collapse. The title "Aedis" is one of the Latin roots of the word "ediface"; while the latter suggests strength and permanence, the fate of the Roman empire and its Latin language have come to symbolize the transience of our cultural constructions. In this piece, solo lines initiate new ideas, inciting other members of the group to take up these materials and develop them by building up complex textures. The process culminates as the individual elements coalesce into large chords and regular pulses; this state of stability is fleeting, however, as these solid structures fracture and dissolve into fragile textures built upon the traces and fragments of the preceding material. Ultimately, I feel that the piece is an optimistic one, since such cyclical progressions generate opportunities for renewal, as the remnants of each collapse provide the soil from which new ideas can grow.


Alluvia - chamber orchestra (2008, 8')
Commissioned by l’Orchestre Francophonie Canadienne as part of the National Arts Centre’s Young Composer’s Program. Premiered June 25, 2008 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Orchestration: flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, and bass.

The work’s title suggests an image of different kinds of sediment that are variously carried and deposited by moving water. At the beginning of the piece, elementary sonic particles are stirred up in the music’s sound stream, producing turbulent swirls of noise. As the music’s flow etches a path, these basic components group together into thin streaks of sound, emerging from the texture as intertwining threads of faltering pitches. Periodically, these lines coalesce to form the work’s harmonic and motivic material, descending from the sound stream as musical deposits, only to be swept up again by the next current. At two points in the work, pitch streams align to correspond with the overtone structures engendered by the oboe and bassoon, respectively. Following the re-construction of their harmonic spectra, these instruments emerge from the ensemble with fluid melodic gestures, shadowed by the other instruments of the ensemble. However, these too are eventually subsumed within the texture, dissolved by the work’s gathering momentum.


Elucide - chamber orchestra (2006, 16'30)
Commissioned by the Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal as part of their Generation 2006 project. Premiered Oct. 9, 2006 in Montreal, and subsequently performed in Calgary, Victoria, Edmonton, and Toronto. The Toronto concert was broadcast on CBC radio’s Two New Hours in November 2006. Elucide won a performance prize in the Canadian University Music Society composition competition, 2008. Orchstration: flute, Bb clarinet, horn, trombone, percussion, piano, violin, viola, cello, and bass.

Elucide takes as its point of departure our perception of sound and its acoustic properties, particularly the arrangement of overtones that gives each instrument its individual timbre. By listening carefully, the ear can often discern a number of the overtones, or partials, that are present in a given timbre; however, for the most part our brains fuse the various components into a single, unified sonic object. In order to heighten our ability to perceive the richness of acoustic phenomena, Elucide deconstructs its sonic materials by using instrumental techniques that expand or alter typical overtone spectra. As well, the instruments of the ensemble are used to play the partials of particular overtone structures (such as that of the harmonics played by the piano), in effect synthesizing the timbre of a single instrument while at the same time revealing the composite nature of the sonority.
Since the act of perception is necessarily accompanied by cognition, Elucide manipulates and progressively abstracts and re-organizes the constituent elements of the sonic material into semantic units, musical ideas such as themes and motives; the piece thus explores the process by which we make sense of our aural perceptions, how we come to understand and find meaning in them.
In synthesizing a unified spectrum with the ensemble, Elucide aims to engender a certain lucidity, in the sense of transparency, whereby the identifying characteristics of the individual instruments melt away to reveal a single harmonic entity. Over the course of the work, however, this transparency transforms into another type of lucidity, meaning intelligibility, whereby the musical meaning found within the sound is elucidated.


Solu - piano and chamber orchestra (2006, 15')
Composed as part of my D.M.A. portfolio in 2005-06. For piano and chamber orchestra: piano, flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, trumpet, trombone, percussion, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass.





Chamber Ensembles

As Ink Bleeds - string quartet (2011, 2'30)
Commissioned by Quatuor Bozzini as part of their “A Chacun Sa Miniature” project. Premiered April 21st, 2011 in Montreal. Released on the quartet’s collection qb label.

Marks on wet paper. Gestures that are sharp and clear at first, then bleed in all directions.


parállaxi - trumpet and piano (2011, 8')
Commissioned by Meagan Simpson-Law. Premiered March 21, 2013 by Aaron Hodgson, trumpet, and Krista Vincent, piano.


Bones of Glass - string quartet (2010, 6')
Composed for Quatuor Bozzini as part of their Composer’s Kitchen project. Premiered May 1st, 2010 in Montreal.

“Bones of Glass” is based upon spectral analyses of sounds produced by a glass vase as it is struck with progressively greater force. This process both guides the development of the piece’s harmonic fabric, as well as offering metaphoric significance: although the increasing blows reveal more and more of the sonic identity of the object, the striker continues with the knowledge that at a certain point the glass will shatter. The piece aims to reflect the fragility, tenuousness, and inevitability of the relationship between one who strikes and one who is struck.

Diaspora - flute and percussion (2010, 15')
Commissioned by flutist Mark McGregor and percussionist Brian Nesselroad for Vancouver Pro Musica’s “Further East, Further West” concert series.

Diaspora is a reflection on the ways in which cultures evolve and interact, differentiating themselves from their shared origins, developing independently, and eventually reconnecting. This image of cultural identity is fluid and dynamic, involving continual struggles for individuation, as peoples work to define themselves both in relation to their own heritage as well as to their neighbours. Like two peoples that have spent a long time developing without contact with one another, the flutist’s typical sonic repertoire bears little immediate resemblance to that of the percussionist; however, by disassembling the sonic materials of these instruments, the piece finds certain basic commonalities between them. The work develops through processes of disentanglement and re-entanglement, as the essential sonic elements evolve in different ways in the hands of the two performers, who share and re-interpret their respective innovations. Although the piece touches upon certain idiomatic archetypes, both in terms of flute and percussion performance techniques as well as Eastern and Western musical styles, these archetypes are quickly subverted as each part continues to re-invent itself and interact with the other.


Ficelles - alto flute, viola, cello, piano (2007, 5')
Composed for the 2008 Sonic Boom festival’s ensemble in residence, Nu:BC. Premiered by the ensemble on April 12th, 2008, at the Western Front in Vancouver.

A flurry of scintillating sonic shards and frayed textures rushes forth at the opening of Ficelles, immersing the listener in a swarm of colour. Once the frenetic energy dissipates, the scattered fragments are gathered together and gradually begin to cohere, being pulled and spun to form threads that are eventually woven together. The sound of the title (which means “strings”) mirrors the progression of the work: the noisy, chaotic acoustic energy at the beginning is drawn out to form the stable vowel sound at the end.

String Quartet - string quartet (2004, 26')
In two movements. The first movement was premiered at my Masters degree recital in 2003, and subsequently performed at the Sonic Boom festival in Vancouver in 2006 by the Yaletown string quartet. The second movement was composed as part of my doctoral degree portfolio.

The first movement presents a gradual process of development, whereby a short melodic unit is explored with progressively greater depth and intensity. At various points in the work, the players are instructed to use bow speeds that are slower or faster than they would ordinarily use, in order to achieve subtle timbral variations; by carefully adjusting the bow pressure and speed, it is possible for the string player to alter the timbre of the sound while keeping the dynamic level constant. The small-scale transitions from slow to fast bow speeds can be heard as miniature representations of the general large-scale progression of the piece.

Duet for Flute and Violin - flute and violin (2003, 10')
Premiered at a UBC student composer’s concert by Rebecca Simpson-Litke and David Litke, 2003.



Piece for Two Cellos - two cellos (2002, 5')
Premiered at my Masters degree recital in 2003 by Kathryn ? and Alexandra Sia.

Wind Quintet - flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn (2000, 5'45)
Premiered University of Toronto New Music Festival, 2000.


Piano Trio - violin, cello, piano (1999, 18')
Second movement premiered at University of Toronto New Music Festival, 1999, by Scott St. John, Simon Fryer, and Lydia Wong.




Solo Instruments

goldbird - piano (2011, 1'45")
Composed for pianist Barbara Pritchard, as part of her “The Other Goldberg Variations” project. Premiered October 16, 2011 in Halifax.

This miniature is a “bird’s - ear hearing” of Bach’s Goldberg Aria. The piece’s florid surface gestures are built upon the skeleton of the aria’s opening antecedent phrase; you can hear the bones poking out now and again.


Walking Music - mbira or marimba (2004, 4'45")
Performed on the marimba by Oliver Maranda at Chapelle de Bon Pasteur in Montreal, December 2005, as part of a workshop hosted by the Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal. This workshop constituted the first stage in my participation in the ECM’s Generation 2006 project.

This piece was originally written to be played on a mbira, which is an African instrument consisting of metal tines attached to a gourd or box resonator. Since construction varies between instruments, the selection and tuning of pitches is unique for each instrument. “Walking Music” was composed for a particular instrument, and is therefore bound by a limited collection of pitches, progressing by gradually exploring this vocabulary. The surface rhythms of the work explore the interrelations between simple polyrhythms, while the large-scale structure uses additive processes to develop metrical groupings.


Piece for Cello - cello (2002, 10')
In three movements. Premiered at my Masters degree recital in 2003 by Laura McPheeters.




Piece for Piano - piano (2002, 7'30")
Premiered at my Masters degree recital in 2003 by Grace Mo.




Piece for Flute and Voice - flute and soprano (one performer) (2002, 10'45")
Composed with the assistance of flutist and soprano Rebecca Simpson-Litke. Performed by Rebecca at UBC Recital Hall in 2003 and the Sonic Boom Festival in Vancouver in 2005, and by Patricia Green in Esprit Orchestra’s New Waves Festival in Toronto, May 2007. Winner of first place prize in SOCAN’s Young Composer competition, Pierre Mercure division, 2003.


David Litke's Piece for Flute and Voice is to be played by a single performer, a flutist with a soprano voice. The piece explores various combinations and juxtapositions of singing and playing; the performer is required to sing and play simultaneously, and to make transitions between the two timbres.
The early stages of the piece emphasize the similarities between the sound of the voice and that of the flute, highlighting their common origins in the human breath. Over the course of the piece, however, a process of differentiation occurs; although they are borne of the same esprit, the two modes of sound production explore and develop their unique characteristics, each finding its individual strengths and personality.

Piece for Violin - violin (2001, 6'20")
In five movements. Performed by myself at my Master’s degree recital in 2003.





Acoustic Instruments with Electroacoustics

The Damages of Gravity - 2 pianos, 2 perc., live electronics (2014, 12')
Commissioned by Erik Forst. Premiered April 2015 at the University of Georgia.


to repair the damages of gravity
I will my weight upwards
that the fractured earth beneath me
may begin
to heal

The Damages of Gravity draws inspiration from Ai Weiwei’s Straight, a work that responds to the devastating earthquakes that occurred in China’s Sichuan Province in 2008. Because of poor construction practices, these earthquakes resulted in an exceptionally high number of deaths - approximately 5000 schoolchildren and teachers were killed. Ai and his team gathered 150 tons of reinforcing rods from collapsed buildings, then spent 3 1/2 years straightening the metal, symbolically repairing the damage. In the final work, Ai arranges the straightened rods to resemble an undulating, fractured landscape.
Compositional materials for The Damages of Gravity were extracted from the sounds of struck metallic plates using spectral analyses; these analyses were used to generate harmonic structures and to process instrumental sounds during performance. The instruments are thus able to take on certain qualities of the metal plates, as Ai Weiwei’s metal rods took on the identity of the lost children. Over the course of the work, these metallic spectra are stretched, fractured, deformed, and transformed into new structures, as the piece searches for reconciliation in the wake of tragedy.

through amnion - flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, live electronics (2013, 9')
Composed for Ensemble l'Arsenale as part of the Composit 2013 composition program. Premiered July , 2013.




Sightlines - oboe and live electronics (2013, 9')
Commissioned for Suzanne Lemieux by the Musikon Ensemble. Premiered Feb. 2014 in Halifax.

Sightlines for oboe and electronics is a reflection on the idea of landscape, and the ways in which we situate ourselves within an environment.
In depicting an environment, a landscape defines a particular space by representing the materials that encapsulate it, thereby taking the space itself as its principle subject. By focusing on the spatial aspect of an environment, a landscape engenders a particular objectivity; in one sense the landscape can be seen to exist in its own right, whether or not other subjects are present within its environment. At the same time, however, the image of a virtual environment invites the viewer to situate him- or herself within it, to imagine what it would be like to occupy that space and interact with the environment. In this sense a landscape very much engages a human subject, and is perhaps more likely to invoke feelings of interactivity and immersion than other genres.
The piece explores this interplay between objective separation and immersion, using the electronic components to create a soundscape environment with which the human subject, represented by the oboist, will interact. At points in the piece, the electronics will provide a naturalistic background environment, from which the oboe part is clearly differentiated, like a passive observer. This relationship will periodically shift to a state of high integration, so that the sounds of the oboe are expanded to become part of the environment, and the live performer is enveloped within the sonic texture. The title invokes an image of looking out over a landscape, constructing a sense of location by referring to particular landmarks on the horizon.


m'habiller encore - piano and live electronics (2012, 14')
Commissioned by Krista Vincent and the Ora Ensemble. Premiered June 2012 in St. John's, Newfoundland.

in sleep I take myself off
I lift away from this body
safe in the belief
that I may clothe
this body
again


m'habiller encore


sewn - mezzo-soprano and glove-controlled live electronics (2011, 14')
Commissioned by the GRASSP/DIVA project at the University of British Columbia.

sewn is about externalizing part of oneself, about something internal taking on life as a separate entity.


sewn


Conduits - clarinet and score-following electronics (2009, rev. 2011, 11')
Collaboration with clarinetist François Houle, as part of a research project at UBC headed by Keith Hamel.

The web of symbols and metaphors that form the basis for this piece centers around the concept of transmission, in the immediate sense of sending of ideas during musical communication, as well as in the sense that cultural constructs are extended and transformed across generations. The clarinet itself represents one kind of conduit, being essentially a hollow tube; it is a pipe that transmits sonic information. The communication of this information is mediated by the electronic components, as the computer expands and responds to the acoustic sounds. The musical materials that both instruments play are themselves derived from another kind of conduit: a metal pipe. The acoustic spectrum of a pipe being struck supplied seminal materials for the musical structures used throughout the piece. Over the course of the work, this material undergoes an evolutionary process, effecting a larger scale transmission as the harmonic structures gradually shift. The piece thus moves through a series of harmonic fields, each harmony representing a different member of a “family tree”. A progression through three generations is heard as a gradual evolution of harmonic structure; each harmony combines elements inherited from its parents, but also introduces some of its own unique elements. Conduits was realized using the IIMPE environment in Keith Hamel’s notation and performance software “NoteAbilityPro”. .


from that which could - soprano and glove-controlled electronics (2007, 7'30)
Composed for the Sound and Music in Computing conference in Lefkada, Greece, in July 2007. Uses a glove- controlled, Max/MSP-based electronic instrument to manipulate the sounds of the voice as well as pre-recorded sound materials. The glove instrument was the subject of my poster presentation at this conference as well as at ICMC 2007 in Copenhagen, entitled “Fractured Sounds, Fractured Meanings; A glove-controlled spectral instrument”.

David Litke’s piece from that which could makes use of his glove-controlled Spectral Instrument, designed using Max/MSP. This instrument allows the user to sample sound from a live performer, then deconstruct and manipulate its spectral components. from that which could explores the symbolic connections between the deconstruction and re-construction of a spectrum with an identifiable source, and similar processes in language. Just as timbres of the voice and instrument sounds are synthesized by combining a collection of spectral components, the text of the piece progressively assembles disconnected phonemes and into recognizable words. .


Flood - piano and fixed playback (2003, 12'30)
Premiered at my Masters degree recital in 2003 by Rachael Iwaasa, and subsequently performed by her at the Sonic Boom festival in Vancouver, 2004.





Electroacoustic/Fixed Media

(p)récéder - for 2 laptops (2018, 10')
(p)récéder explores the periods of time leading up to and away from significant events. The piece’s sonic palette originates from a set of sound files, each of which contains one or two percussive sounds. Each performer explores these sounds by “scrubbing” through them, focusing particularly on the subtle areas before and after each ictus. The performers’ dialog can be seen as a mediation on the ways that an event is defined by that which precedes and follows it; by working through these areas, the players attempt to come to terms with life’s impactful moments.

To play the piece, two performers wear LED lights on their index fingers and thumbs, producing their sound by tracing gestures in front of their laptop’s camera. The laptops use computer vision algorithms to track the positions of the lights, effecting the instrument’s granular synthesis and convolution processes..

Shift - for laptop ensemble (2016, 12-14')
Shift is an exploration of single familiar electronic process: delay. All of the sounds in the piece are produced by delaying source sounds (recorded by each player at the beginning of the performance) by varying time intervals; very short delays produce resonant filtering effects and reverberation, while longer delays generate rhythms and gestures. On a large time scale, the ensemble itself creates a delay chain, as the players move through the same sequence of gestures at staggered time intervals.

Premiered at SEAMUS 2017 in St. Cloud, MN, by the UGA Laptop Ensemble.

Etude de Blip - fixed media (2014, 1')
The first in a set of "Ugen etudes" composed in SuperCollider, each focusing on a single object. This piece was composed using the IIMPE in NoteAbilityPro (see Video page).

Tabula Rasa - tablet-controlled electroacoustics (2013, 6-8')
Premiered at the University of Windsor, March 21, 2013. Subsequently performed at the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium, 2014.

Tabula Rasa is about fading and fragmented memories, and finding new beginnings.

Synesthesia - tablet-controlled electroacoustics (2013, 6-8')
Premiered at the University of Windsor, February 7, 2013. Subsequently performed at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, 2013.

Olivier Messiaen was an influential French composer whose work provided inspiration for major compositional movements, including spectralism. He also happened to be synesthetic, perceiving connections between musical sonorities and visual colours. Based on an archival recording of Messiaen teaching an analysis class in which he discusses the colours he finds in Debussy, this piece applies spectral techniques to the sound of Messiaen’s voice and translates aspects of the sound production into projected imagery.

Stationary Activity - stop motion animation (2008, 2')
Created for Vancouver’s “Trick 17 Stop-Motion Animation Competition”. I was part of a team directed by Al Reid. This video won two awards in the competition: “Most Creative”, and “Best Use of Category and Theme”.
Watch on YouTube

stationary activity


Fenestration - fixed media (2008, 1')
Composed for the 2008 Vox Novus 60x60 project, in which 60 compositions, each one minute in length, are played consecutively. Premiered at Mill’s College, San Francisco, April 2008. www.voxnovus.com


“Fenestration” pokes holes in the real auditory environment, allowing the listener brief glimpses of an imaginary sound world.




© David Litke 2018