Ashley Venegas; 3/9/19
David T. Little
Sweet Light Crude (2007/ recording released on November 2010)
For soprano and amplified chamber ensemble
Pervasive Sounds and Idiosyncrasy
Having no previous knowledge of Little’s musical works, I found his compositions rather interesting, as they ranged from solos to choral, opera, and ensemble works. There were a few recordings that were available on his personal website and while the opera works were certainly appealing, I thought Sweet Light Crude was intriguing enough to listen to in its entirety. Sweet Light Crude is composition made of post-rock musical styles that incorporates classical and standard-rock instruments into its work. While this work may simply be described as a just “another rock song”, I believe that there are many intricate details that allow for this work to stand out beyond a standard post-rock vibe and that it should be labeled as a classical composition.
The opening of the song introduces the listener to a droned tonic pitch on the synthesizer and a somber soprano voice that is reminiscent of a post-rock band; however, the entrance of a clarinet, violin, and vibraphone “disrupt” the pre-conceived instrumental arrangement of the standard rock song. As the piece begins to build momentum, the texture becomes thicker with rock-related instruments, such as an electric guitar and drum-set. While the addition of classical instruments might seem out-of-place from the first hearing, the work allows for the listener to “warm-up” to these new timbres. The clarinet and cello have separate rhythmic and melodic lines that constantly repeat (polyphonic texture) and are accompanied by a vibraphone on the downbeats in an asymmetrical meter of 7/8. The repetition of the melodic lines and motive are rather common within (post) rock music and this helps the classical instruments fit into that style. Referring to the rock instruments, the entrance of the electric guitar, drum-set, and synthesizer solidify the overall timbre and rhythm of a post-rock band but allow the classical side to blend in without discomposing the mood.
Although most bands stay within a steady 4/4 meter, the piece continues to capture the listener’s attention with a mix of symmetrical and asymmetrical meter within the first section of the work. The clarinet and cello’s motives in a 7/8 meter allow for some stability due to repetition, yet weak-beat accented notes and rhythmically active areas displace the sense of meter. As the drum-set enters, there is a mix of simple and compound time that constantly switches from 4/4 and 6/8 time meters. The constant motion between all the instruments, though not as rhythmically active now, allows for the music to drive forward into the next abrupt section (second section) that settles into a 4/4 meter as the drum-set keeps a steady rock-motion. Again, the 7/8, 4/4, and 6/8 meter patterns are repeated once again in the third section of the work; however, the transition from the steady 4/4 section into the repeated 7/8 is not anticipated and thus creates an unstable feeling, despite the third section having the same motive as the clarinet and cello from the beginning of the work. These asymmetrical meters and the fluctuation from simple to compound time allows the listener to take notice of the work’s constant changes rather than simply hearing it as background noise.
Lastly, the tone and character of the piece has a serious and unrelenting quality with haunting melodies that move around the ensemble. The soprano’s melody and synthesizer introduce the listener to a minor key, while the clarinet and cello’s melodic motive outline a downward motion, illustrating a depressive mood. Due to the instrumentation, the timbre is smooth and quite hypnotic in the clarinet and cello because of its repetitive nature and legato notes. In contrast, the rock instruments such as the guitar, synthesizer, and drum-set allow for a pervasive and heavy timbre that create tension with distorted, staccato sounds and rolling rock drum-fills (sometimes the vibraphone aids in the steady, rolling rhythm). In terms of vocals, the soprano is uttering words, yet Little seems to use the voice as an instrument in the work for its colors. The voice adds to the haunting melody as it wails in the upper register with somewhat indiscernible words, but there are moments that the lyrics are clearly heard such as “Sweet, light crude what you are to me, my love”, “Without you”, “I cry, I’d die for you”, and “I’d kill for you”. These dark expressions, use of diction, and long somber phrases highlight the serious and foreboding nature of the overall character of the work, showing the desperation in the vocals and how the words become more violent as the song progresses on. The whole work constantly changes in meter, style, timbre, and diction, yet it is alluring because it connects from one change to the next with meaningful intention. The odd meters changes, instrumentation, minor key, and constant dynamic and style fluctuations are meant to give a melancholic mood that is unsettling to the listener.
In my final thoughts, after having several hearings of this work, I find Sweet Light Crude to be exceptionally captivating and consider it to be a well-written composition. When encountered with the word “composer”, it is almost instinctual for a classically-trained musician to think of that composer as someone who creates traditional/ classical music. It is a mindset that is installed when we (classical musicians) focus on our own world that only encompasses said music styles due to our tastes and musically studies. However, a composer should not be classified by this perceived and biased definition of someone stuck in tradition. While Little has included common musical practices such as canons, musical motives, imitation, and polyphony into his works (Sweet Light Crude), he is open to the mix of “uncommon” instrumentation and genres. David T. Little is a creative and interesting composer who has blended together a variety of instruments and styles within his works, demonstrating an open-minded approach in composition and the means to produce something uniquely attractive and intelligent.
– Ashley Venegas
Little, David. “Sweet Light Crude.” David T. Little. https://davidtlittle.com/works/sweet-light-crude/ (accessed March 9, 2019).