New Complexity

Brian Ferneyhough: Mnemosyne (1986)

This piece by the British composer is written for bass flute and electronics, and I was able to follow along with the score here.  I can easily see why the genre has been labelled ‘New Complexity’ – the score is almost incomprehensible to me, full of strange symbols and notations that I have never come across before.  The time signature changes every bar, and the piece includes some very unusual time signatures such as 5/10.  It is also jam packed full of dynamic markings.  The prerecorded electronic sounds create a backdrop for the flute, which is played in very unusual ways such as flutter tongue and percussive key pressing.  It creates an atmospheric soundscape, the sounds from the bass flute remind me of primitive or aboriginal cultures.  There are no really distinguishable melodies or rhythms though, and I do wonder what the purpose of variable meter and strange time signatures is in a piece like this – it seems to me to be complexity for its own sake rather than enhancing the music in any way.

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