how we got here

David T. Little

how we got here

Premiered in 2003

When listening to David T. Little’s compositions on his website, I noticed a common element in his music: Rhythmic drive. His composition for 13 players how we got here is no exception. The listener is immersed in a constant pulse in the percussion right at the beginning. However, the perception of the listener is skewed as the percussion quartet members perform different groupings of a constantly repeating pattern. Sometimes they created simple hemiolas throughout the piece, which were a little easier to understand but still created a sort of “dizzying effect” in which the listener may find it difficult to perceive the meter of the composition. It reminded me of the opening of a song called Hideaway by English composer, Jacob Collier. In an interview, Collier stated that he used multiple layers of different rhythmic content to create an effect that he calls “rolling like an egg,” where the rhythmic layers only line up every couple of measures. He states that rhythms like these give a certain momentum to the composition on a different level or “axis” to that of harmony. The percussive parts in Little’s composition likewise align themselves every couple of measures, adding momentum that drives the work perpetually forward.

To add to this dizzying, or disorienting effect, the parts played by the clarinet quartet, string quartet and electric bass do not have any sort of melodic content. They either have rhythmic content with the percussion, or they add sound effects and colors to the texture. At the very beginning we hear violins in an extremely high register playing notes that do not seem to match tonally with the percussion that is driving the texture. To me this seemed much more like an atmospheric device than a harmonic or rhythmic one. Little most likely wanted to create unease or tension for the listener. The tension created by the violins never seems to resolve and is complemented by the clarinet entrance. The use of minor seconds adds to the dissonance and is performed in an ominous low register, creating a stark contrast between the high strings.

Another thing that I noticed was the aggressiveness in the articulation of the string quartet and the clarinet quartet. They were performing their more active parts as if they were striking a percussive instrument. Even some of the string articulations sounded like they were overplaying their instruments and creating a rough and sometimes screeching tone.

After an abrupt moment when all the instruments play together, Little gives us a sort of new section with bowed percussion and the piece stops. To me he created a sense of suspense of what is to come. After a brief time we dive back into another section of hemiola with constantly altered rhythmic patterns. The composition seems to wind down slowly to the end.

Little seems to take the title of his work seriously. It seemed as though the point of this composition was to be a musical expedition. His music could be compared to that of Frederic Chopin’s Prelude in E-minor (opus. 28 no. 4). This piano composition is mostly eighth notes and relatively simple but highly effective in terms of portraying a musical journey. Both of these compositions seem to be designed like a hill with a steady growth up to the top, a climax and then a journey back down.

-Michelle Shaheen

Recording used:

how we got here

Other sources:

Lee, June. “Interview: Jacob Collier (Part 2)”. Youtube video, 38:36. Posted June 27, 2017.

Romantic and Modern Music Channel. “F. Chopin : Prelude op. 28 no. 4 in E minor (Kissin)”. Youtube video, 1:56. Posted June 3, 2011.

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