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Sound and Sense (Fuaim is Seagh) (2016)

Instrumentation: Mezzo-soprano, Clarinet, 'Cello
Duration: ca. 7'
Text: Traditional Gaelic
Written for New Music on the Point
Premiere Date: June 18, 2016, Leicester, VT

Program Note

Fuaim is Seagh (“Sound and Sense”) plays with the boundary between the semantic and the sensual content of text in Scots Gaelic lyrics and poetry. Each movement represents a different approach to this interplay, while also embodying a different form of music found in the Scottish folk tradition. The first movement, Bà i ù o hò, is a lullaby, with the refrain comprised of onomatopoeic syllables. The quarter-tone scales that permeate the work are roughly derived from the singers’ formants that resonate with these opening vowel sounds, creating a six-note scale made up of half-and-a-quarter steps, whole steps, and whole-and-a-quarter steps. These intervals create a pitch collection that contain a dominant and tonic relationship (C to F) while still filtering the musical gestures through a quarter-tone prism, refracting their meaning, akin to the act of translation or interpretation of non-lexical vocables (“nonsense” words). The second movement, Far am bi mi fhìn, is written in the style of a reel, a fast-moving dance, specifically a puirt-à-beul, literally, “mouth music.” Whereas the first movement’s focus was on the vowel sounds, this final movement highlights consonants–the lyrics of a puirt- à -beul were frequently nonsensical, banal, or perhaps even lewd, with the emphasis placed on creating a rhythmic, drum-, pipe-, or fiddle-like sound that could essentially serve in place of an instrument for dancing or other entertainment. This final movement weaves the two scale types together to a greater degree than before, ultimately utilizing their various transpositions together in a final push towards the closing refrain.

— Douglas Buchanan


Bà i ù o hò


Far am bi mi fhìn


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