My music is often characterised by an exploration of timbre and the use of a small amount of material. I love creating intimate pieces which explore the materiality of sound, notions of close listening, perception, rawness, and instability.
I love working with unstable sounds - I think they are full of rich possibilities and remind me of things in our world which change over time without human control (e.g. rust). However one thing I’ve been grappling with is how to give performers more freedom to respond to, and embrace, the unpredictable ways in which unstable sounds can behave in performance. This has meant making sure the effectiveness of a piece does not depend on a sound being played in an overly defined and fixed way, when what it wants to do is change or be elusive.
In Overlapping Transformations for prepared baritone electric guitar, bass clarinet, violin and double bass (written for Prague Quiet Music Collective), I created sound maps for each instrument with carefully chosen sounds and potential relationships with other players. Each player decides how to get from one sound to another - they are encouraged to discover the malleable boundaries of their sounds and how these sounds might transform into one another. They also have prompts to explore certain variables should they wish. With duration and form more open, the players have more space to follow their curiosity and their ears, to be responsive to the sounds and each other in the moment.
Score excerpt 1: Bass clarinet part from Overlapping Transformations
In another piece, flare for solo piano (written for Ben Smith), space is also given for the pianist to make their own explorations with the sounds, though unlike Overlapping Transformations, these periods are more brief and are woven into a fixed structure. This piece investigates the natural harmonics found on only two keys of the piano.
Score excerpt 2: flare (note: 8vb always, harmonics notated as sounding)
What I enjoyed about these two pieces is that they encourage the performer to listen closely and curiously to the intricate details of their sound and to explore its possibilities within a clearly defined sound-world, harmonic field and atmosphere.
For Illuminate’s Spring Season 2023, I’ve composed a piece called (left detail) for Trio Sonorité, consisting of clarinet, cello and piano. It’s a set of five miniatures, with all the material contained within the opening. What follows is a zooming in to this material as object - an invitation to look at it in more detail. Splinters of the opening are magnified, drawing our attention to the near synchronicities and rhythmic instabilities of the opening.
This piece is a little different from what I’ve been making recently. Where my starting point would naturally be to explore the inside of the piano, with clarinet multiphonics and preparations on the cello, I gave myself a creative limitation to use only the conventional sounds of the instruments. Having not explored these sounds for several years now, I wanted to challenge my default ways of working and see what would happen. There’s also a return to shorter, more precise forms which seem to dissect the material, and intricate rhythms play a bigger role.
If you’d like to discuss any of the above in further detail, feel free to drop me an email: email@example.com
To read/hear more about my music, please go to: www.sylvialim.co