THE ONE BEST SYSTEM (2007, rev. 2008)

C/alto flute, Bb/bass clarinet, cello and piano (13’). Commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber Winds Festival for Chamber Mix.

Taking its cue from the corporate world’s perpetual search to streamline, optimize and simplify, The One Best System is based on a rhythmic motive that, with repetition, progressively drops “extraneous” notes until, having run out of notes to liquidate, it ultimately destroys itself. This system occurs in varying forms three times, gaining prominence as a viable melodic role as the piece progresses and the notes in the motive move from non-pitched to pitched sounds. Simultaneously, the compression of the rhythmic motive gradually stitches together disconnected strings of an unhurried, saccharine melody—one that isn’t heard in its entirety until the middle of the piece.

Once the slow melody is assembled and the conjoining function of the rhythmic system is served, the rhythmic motive, in a severed and augmented form, reemerges as an accompaniment to the slow theme. As though unable to do anything else, however, the rhythmic motive begins to systematically liquidate the rests between its entries in order to fuse itself back together. In contrast to the previous iterations of the optimizing system, which allowed the rhythmic motive to compress without adversely affecting the layer of melodic activity, the compression of the augmented rhythmic motive comes at the expense of the slow melody, which drops the simultaneous notes that are eliminated from the rhythmic line. Progressively, the slow melody becomes fractured and takes different shapes as previously non-consecutive pitches and harmonies meet during the rhythmic motive’s coming back together. Ultimately, the piece’s melodic identity becomes nothing but a manic amalgam of melodic snippets, hurdling forward toward the work’s inevitable implosion.

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Performance: New York New Music Ensemble