Synapse for orchestra & live electronics by Michael Alcorn

Synapse for orchestra & live electronics
Note by Michael Alcorn

The word 'synapse' comes from the Greek: 'syn' meaning 'together' and 'haptein' meaning 'to clasp'. In the field of neuroscience, the term 'synapse' refers to the tiny gap between neurons in the nervous system. Across this gap signals (chemical neurotransmitters) are transmitted between neighbouring neurons in the form of 'stop' or 'go' messages. The status of the message is defined by the concentration of positively or negatively charged ions entering the receiving neurons.

The concept of a 'musical synapse' is represented in this piece by the apparent gap between sounds that emanate from the real instruments of the orchestra and the electronic sound-world that is triggered, articulated and shaped by the orchestral instruments. In some respects the triggering of these sounds parallels the 'stop'/'go' messages of the synaptic nerves. The electronic timbres comprise materials which were pre-composed in the studio and sounds of the orchestra which are transformed in real-time during the performance.

Synapse is in one continuous movement with musical ideas derived from a single scale which traverses the entire range of the orchestra from contrabassoon to piccolo. This 'super-scale' provides a degree of harmonic focus for the work and characterises the many complex textures that are explored by the orchestral forces.

The work was commissioned by RTE for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Much of the initial work on the piece was undertaken during a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan.

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