I wrote “through and out” to take advantage of a chance to compose for one of my “dream team” instrument combinations: a duo of erhu and cello. I got to choose this lucky option through the 2012 Montreal Contemporary Music Lab, with a duo of Lan Tung on erhu and Rachel Gauntlett on cello. Erhu is a two-string fiddle of Chinese origin that has a distinct, almost nasal, voice-like timbre and, among other idiomatic leanings, a real strength for expressive slides between pitches. To me, cello has similar vocal and sliding potential, and I tried to exploit both of their complementary qualities to evoke a process of emotional catharsis in “through and out”.
The cello opens the work with a keening gesture that then becomes accompaniment to the erhu as it exposes a rueful melody. The melody is handed off to the cello to reiterate nostalgically before the opening gesture, the melody, and its motives are set into agitated motion. Through rapid progressions of expression, these materials are explored, distended, and intensified, until, spent and “all cried out”, the energy dissipates into a faint recollection of the original melody.
I played this recording at home on a summer night with the windows open and a beautiful polyphonic chorus of coyotes started crying out. Perhaps they identified with the vocal slides? In any case it’s always nice to know when you can reach your fellow mammals with your music.