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Works » By Title » M » Motility (43:03 / 1968-69, rev. 1986)

Michael Horwood

Motility is a two-channel stereo tape composition. It was originally created for campus radio broadcast on my free-form radio program, Ad lib. At that time, since the radio station only broadcasted in mono, I wasn’t too concerned about stereo separation. Therefore, I kept left/right differences fairly basic. The original 1968-69 version used only one bass drum (L) and cymbal (R) plus the foreground harpsichord. This version lasted about fifty minutes. In the current revision, the sound sources were updated to include an additional bass drum and suspended cymbal.

The title is a biological term referring to the motion of one-celled animal life (the amœba, the paramecium, and other protozoa) in a hydrous environment. This is what the music is intended to depict, and it is, consequently, programmatic. Therefore, two ideas are essential to the work’s content: the motion of unicellular animals and their water environment. Motion is portrayed by the harpsichord in varying degrees of activity. It is the foreground and centre of focus just as one would see in a microscope while observing the life forms. The harpsichord part is an edited version of an extended solo improvisation. Some features developed during this improvisation include variation on one or a few motives, register, texture, ritardando/accelerando, tone clusters, attack, and decay. These features are further exploited and manipulated for the final mix. For example, the “foreign” quality of this hidden world is conveyed by the simple, yet impressive effects of combining forward and backward playback of the harpsichord part and channel shifting. Occasional pitch flutters are produced by intentionally bad tape splices which allow the tape to “catch” during playback. Even the “clicks” which result when the fingers release the harpsichord’s keys are intentionally left in for their sound effect.

The ever-present water environment is portrayed by the background percussion tracks. These parts consist of continuous rolls on the cymbals and bass drums throughout the entire piece, varying only in volume. The cymbal tracks are played back at half speed and recorded independently. In the revised version, each channel has a bass drum and cymbal. Motility can be heard as an extension of those musics involving drones. Simply put, it combines static background (percussion) with active foreground (harpsichord). The music evolves slowly and culminates in a huge double climax near the end of the piece. Motility should be listened to with a moderately loud playback level. On less than adequate systems, the bass will need boosting.

Finally, but not least, “Motility” is dedicated to William Thiele, the percussionist for the original version, and my other colleagues of that time, all of whom exhibited the good friendship and humour that was so much needed in those special, yet difficult university years. The original version and realization was done at Baird Recital Hall, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1968-69. The 1986 revision was done at The Music Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, May, 1986. “Motility” was recorded and revised in January of 1986.

  • Studio: Original version and realization: Baird Recital Hall, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1968-69. 1986 revision: Music Gallery (Toronto ON, May 1986). Recorded and revised in January of 1986.
  • Premiere: Music Gallery (Toronto, Ontario)

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