Thousands of Bundled Straw, the Val Camonica Pieces and Skin Quartet are three cycles of chamber music composed by David Young. These works comprise a folio of compositions accompanied by a critical commentary examining the context, inspiration and details of each work.
Composed over a period of almost ten years, Thousands of Bundled Straw is a song cycle for soprano and large ensemble. In many ways an autobiography of evolving composition approaches, the cycle’s movements were each composed for different ensembles and circumstances. The movement have a close relationship to the performers who premiered the work, and the compositional process often involved technical and artistic collaboration with the musicians. Japan’s culture, contemporary and past is an important catalyst for the song cycle. The macro- and micro-structure are shaped by influences as various as traditional Japanese packaging, the Japanese postal system, a biscuit packet and a temple tourist brochure. The libretto incorporates fragments from literary sources, such as Calvino’s Mr Palomar, and Perec’s A Void. These narratives and stories have influenced the conceptual shaping of the work.
Skin Quartet was composed in collaboration with visual artist Louisa Bufardeci. The conceptual starting point, aspects of the notational and visual material, as well as the performance context, all rely on this collaborative process across the artforms of music and visual art. Performed by a live string quartet reading their scores from laptop computer screens, the music is accompanied by a projection of a digital film which presents statistics on ethnicities and global populations with micro-landscapes of different skin types.
The ancient rock carvings of the Camonica Valley inspired the Val Camonica Pieces. The pieces, for various chamber combinations, employ the rock carvings in different ways: as musical gestures, points of inspiration and as literal transcriptions into music notation. The pieces can be played in any order, much like wandering around the valley’s many protected parks and significant archaeological sites.
Thousands of Bundled Straw, Skin Quartet and the Val Camonica Pieces are composed using rules and formulae. All three of the works draw from compendiums, catalogues and lists which are employed as foundations, bricks, mortar and detail in their construction. Taking inspiration from the OuLiPo group (Workshop for Potential Literature), of which Calvino and Perec were members, the purpose of these regulations and restrictions is to create clearly defined structures within which free inventiveness is possible.
Since completing this folio of compositions, many of the experiments, research and ideas explored in the works have been applied in new ways. Later works for chamber ensemble draw from the calm and transparency of the final movement in the song cycle. The use of computer screen-based photographic and animated notation has continued to evolve in subsequent projects. In particular, the practice of collaborating across artforms has influenced compositions created under the auspices of the arts organisation Aphids.