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Note by the composer:
Voices is a three-movement work for clarinet and orchestra commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra with support from the Cary Trust, and dedicated to the composer's father. The work was premiered with the ACO at Carnegie Hall on May 24, 1998, with the composer as soloist and Tan Dun conducting, and has been performed with the BBC in London, BMOP in Boston, and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The first two movements of the three-movement work are played without pause. Each movement examines a different facet of the vocal capabilities of the clarinet and the orchestra. The clarinet player explores a myriad of techniques and the orchestral players respond to the soloist's calls, either by imitation or through accompaniment.
The first movement, "Id," evokes sounds of shouting, laughing, and mumbling. In certain cases an entire section of the orchestra, or even a tutti, may emulate the sound of one voice. Pitch clusters, rather than traditional melodic lines, are used to evoke the tonal indistinctness associated with speech. The strings achieve vocal effects through a combination of bowings, articulations and portamento, the woodwinds with accents and glissandi, the brass by using hands (horns), plungers (trombones) or derby hats (trumpets), and the electric guitar with a "wa-wa" pedal.
The second movement, "She Moved thru the Fair," deals primarily with techniques of inflection associated with Irish music. Particularly characteristic of this idiom is the use of grace notes to evoke the vocal technique of "keening," which can embellish and dramatizes a simple melodic line. This movement also explores a particular type of phrasing prevalent in folk singing: melismas extending over the barline, which both create and relax tension by playing against the metrical constructs of the accompanimental rhythm.
The third movement, "Jamm on Toast," also focuses on song; however it features vocal techniques more commonly associated with funk and big-band music, including growl tones and flutter tongues on wind instruments and heavy vibrato on string instruments. The clarinet again employs glissandi, however this time its function is more soulful than lyrical, and its swooping lines are punctuated by swung rhythms in the winds, percussion, electric guitar, and electric bass.