On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice / Sub-Music & Song for Solo Flute

On Thin Ice, for flute and guitar was commissioned by The Loop Group, a contemporary performance ensemble which was active in Chicago during the 1980’s. The piece derives its material from a series of improvisations created for several performance organizations in which I was involved at Ohio State University during the 1970’s.  The original material has been altered, developed, and recombined, using a recombined, using a tone row with limited transpositions and a scale with a pentatonic character.  The flute and guitar are both amplified in performance in order to enhance the sound properties of the extended techniques.  The title refers to several aspects of the piece: the risks involved in creating pieces through improvisation; the risks of juxtaposing several ideas in a short time; and the continuous forward motion necessary in skating on thin ice in order to avoid breaking through. (Janice Misurell-Mitchell)

The term, “sub-music” comes from a poem by Wallace Stevens, “Variations on a Summer Day”, in which he says, “Sub-music, like sub-speech, a repetition of unconscious things….” I interpreted the concept of sub-music as music not yet entirely formed. Thus the first two-thirds of the piece contains rough, colorful displays of repeated, distorted sounds, while the last third, the Song, presents material of the previous section in a more refined setting, using rounded phrases and purer sounds. Sub-Music and Song, for solo flute was developed from an improvisation which I performed for a Chicago composers concert held during the New Music America Festival in Chicago in 1982. In subsequent versions I extended the amount of music that was notated; the piece in its final form is a transcription of the improvisation I performed in 1983. (Janice Misurell-Mitchell)