Stace Constantinou's Dripsody Analysis

Analyst's name: 
Stace Constantinou
Year of analysis: 
2011
Composition title: 
Dripsody

 

An analysis of Hugh Le Caine’s 1955 piece ‘Dripsody’

[Note: Edited on 2 February 2016]

 

The title ‘Dripsody’ is itself a curious inscription, as it seems to allude to an earlier musical form, that of the rhapsody.  Something of the feel and pace of a rhapsody is perhaps the intention for this early example of electroacoustic music – a rhapsody of drip sounds.  But there is more than just a curious title to this jaunty piece, as the following examination reveals.  This analysis works in conjunction with Michael Gatt's analysis, of the same work, here.

[Note: total duration 86:19 seconds.]

The music begins with a water drip sound.  This sound is then copied and placed apart from itself, at equidistance intervals in time, providing a sense of metre.  Given the regularity of the drip sound, we can apply the expedient, that there are 4 crotchets in a bar – this does not mean that there are 4 crotchet beats in the music, simply that we can measure the piece using this as a ruler, and referrer to passages in terms of its measure.  Given this assumption, the tempo is: crotchet (♩)= 167.8694 beats per minute.

After the regularity of the opening passage, more drip sounds are added gradually blurring its consistency until an arrhythmic feel is achieved.  Drip sounds have been used by other composers, to form an element of the work, see Magic Lantern, here.  At m.27, on the second crotchet beat, the first of a series of drip runs (for want of a better expression) begins.  These runs start with a low drip sound that becomes higher in pitch and simultaneously accelerating proportionately to the increase in speed.  This suggests that either the drip sounds have been aligned, head to tail and end on end, creating a direct relationship between the pitch and speed, or that the composer has arranged the drips arbitrarily so that this effect is created.  This first sequence last 11 crotchet-beats exactly.  The sequence is then immediately repeated.  At m.32, on beat four, a third sequence of runs begins.  It is related to the first two in material, but now increases exponentially in both pitch and speed.  It is exactly half the length of the previous two sequence lengths.  This has the effect of reducing the clarity of the pulse by increasing the presence of arrhythmic quality.

At m.34 the composer places a run on the second semiquaver of the bar, which indicates that the he is still working to a regular, yet syncopated, pulse grid.

These runs continue until m.47 when a return to the original material occurs.  At m.39 (circa 00:55 seconds) the piece reaches its maximum loudness.  The acoustic energy peaks at 0dB for the first and last time in the music.  Simultaneously, the density of the drips reaches the maximum saturation point. This climatic moment occurs at, almost exactly, 0.618 (written Φ "phi") of the way through the piece (within two per cent of Φ (phi) - in other words the Golden ratio point).

On the third crotchet beat of m.48 the return of the original drip sound occurs.  The composer has re-introduced the original material, using a cross-fade method whereby the arrhythmic runs have been faded out, whilst the more regular pulse is faded in.  At circa 1’09’’ (a point mathematically related to Φ) this return to drip normality is complete.  The recap is not a simple re-statement of the original, however.  Instead, the regularity is skewed by offbeat and arbitrary drips.  The grid is never entirely lost, however, as each drip occurs on a semiquaver, quaver or crotchet beat.

The piece ends with a single drip in m.61 beginning on the second quaver beat and ending by the second crotchet.

Summary

Hugh Le Caine’s 1955 piece ‘Dripsody’ applies electroacoustic material and technique but within a pre-existing notion of form, and even perhaps style, that of the rhapsody.  A regular grid pulse can be identified throughout the piece, although its recurrence is intermittently obscured by the use of layered runs.  The composer makes use of a ternary form: beginning (A), development (B) - which climaxes at the Golden ratio - and the return (A1).  This return is given an added fineness by means of an altered return of the drip sound, which on first hearing sounds arbitrary, but in fact occurs on the grid, albeit in syncopation.  If my analysis is correct, Hugh Le Cain wouldn’t be the first artist to apply a new material in an existing form.