Aaron Cassidy – metallic dust (1999) for bass clarinet
Carl Rosman, bass clarinet
Janet Sinica, video
Hendrik Manook, sound design
This all happened quite a while ago, so I’m not completely sure about the details. If I remember correctly, at some point around the turn of the millennium Ian Pace (with whom I played several concerts on my then quite regular trips to London) had just returned from a trip to Buffalo. There he had made the acquaintance of various members of David Felder’s composition class, one of whom was Aaron Cassidy… who had written a bass clarinet solo which Harry Sparnaay had workshopped, and which a couple of years later was still awaiting an actual premiere.
As it happened, I had been wondering for a while whether someone at some point was going to come up with a clarinet version of techniques I had noticed in some of the ‘complex’ repertoire of the 1980s, where composers such as Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus K. Hübler had (of course among other things) explored the possibility of decoupling the (to put it crudely) sound-generating and pitch-determining parts of the performer/instrument situation. (In the case of string instruments, this roughly corresponds to the right and left hands, and so is out there in the open to observe; in the case of wind instruments it’s a little more complicated and a lot less visible, although Hübler, and later Richard Barrett, managed it with the trombone in their pieces CERCAR and EARTH respectively.) From where I saw it in the early 2000s, the peak of this sort of thing seemed to have passed a few years back, and I was wondering whether the chance of someone doing something productive with it for the clarinet might have passed with it; but here was a piece for bass clarinet, written by a 22-year-old student, taking this as its fundamental principle.
Aaron himself has of course, along with some of his contemporaries and eventually his students, taken this line of thinking further still, and dug far deeper into the physical realities of the instrument than would even have been possible at the time of metallic dust; of course our musical relationship has continued and I’ve premiered several of his pieces since, as singer and as conductor as well as clarinettist. But as far as I’m concerned metallic dust still stands up marvellously. It’s a sometimes frustrating feature of life in a new music ensemble that it’s not always possible to go back to pieces that aren’t so new any more—having the chance to revisit pieces like this is certainly a little silver lining of the current situation.
Carl Rosman, August 2020