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the ebb - Stuart MacRae

Paradoxically for a piece about the sea, the first ideas for the ebb came into my mind while I was walking through a forest! But what I was recalling, with the intention of writing the piece, was the unexpectedly significant event of my first visit to the seaside in well over a year. I had sat for a long time on a rocky outcrop watching the waves coming in, at first strongly and then breaking and swirling around the rocks before gently lapping the receding shore with a fizz.


My initial three ideas quickly converged into two, one of which would imagine the bustling, skittish, fizzing activity and potentially violent motion of the waves – this translated into passages with both instruments playing in the same register, sometimes violently colliding and accelerating rhythmically, sometimes bubbling and tangling in overlapping staccato runs of microtones. The second idea imagined the depth, power and permanence of the sea when seen from afar, creating shifting yet anchored harmonies with uncertain tonality. I think something of the mysterious feelings the sea evokes made it into these sections, which seem fixed yet somehow always unsettled by microtonal inflections and divergent colours.


Bearing in mind that Sequoia had asked me for quite an active and climactic piece to fit the programme, I wanted to integrate these two elements, and this gave me the general shape and direction of the piece: in the second half of the piece the characteristics of the two types of material are, in effect, hybridised to create the impression of a single entity capable of turbulence and permanence in equal measure, and even simultaneously. This approach gave me another opportunity to explore one of my favourite sources of inspiration: nature and our relationship to it – in this case as mere observers of something far greater than ourselves. The subject of ‘water music’ is a great one for a programme – something so central to our lives and experiences but so easily taken for granted, and it’s the provocation to look and think deeply about a single aspect of the way in which we interact with water that suggests a way to engage with it musically.


© Stuart MacRae 2022


the ebb was commissioned by Sequoia for WATER MUSIC source to sea with support from Creative Scotland and the RVW Trust.




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