White Bird – blackbird can best be described by imagining the following scenario. A person is gazing at a photo of a white bird, exotic and rare, which the photographer has travelled for miles to capture in a perfect shot. Outside the window, a small blackbird is hopping around on the dirty pavement. At first, the person doesn’t notice the blackbird, and even when he does he quickly returns to his picture. The blackbird has no interest for him, when he has such a perfect photo to gaze at. However, the antics of the blackbird eventually capture the person’s attention and gradually draw him away from his photo. The white bird starts to seem rather fake in comparison to the blackbird. Finally, the person is transfixed by the blackbird – and the photo is forgotten.
The opportunity to write for quarter tone alto flute allowed to me further explore the use of the natural harmonic series, which has featured in several of my previous compositions. This also allowed me to differentiate between the material for the white bird and the blackbird – the blackbird uses quarter tones, while the white bird doesn’t. Although the material for the white bird and the blackbird are drawn from the same source, the white bird material remains static while the blackbird material quickly evolves to become based around material drawn from the harmonic series, and therefore incorporating quarter tones. Over the course of the piece, while the white bird centres around a limited set of pitches, the blackbird material quickly transforms through a progression of different pitch sets to finally arrive on the G harmonic series by the end of the piece – the only time I use the series in its purest form.
From the moment the person first notices the blackbird; both ‘birds’ are always present in the music. As one is focussed on, the other is still present in the background. As the piece progresses, the blackbird begins to dominate the music becoming even more vivid and alive, while the white bird material, reduced to only a few pitches, almost disappears by the end.
Elizabeth Winters (2011)