Melody Competition (2000)
Instrumentation (from the score):
6 sets of non-pitched instruments, each comprising:
-one resonating drum, such as tom-tom
-one medium not-particularly-resonant metal (sharp attach, short decay), such as a Beijing opera gong
-one higher-pitched piece of wood, such as a woodblock
There should be as wide a variety of sounds within each “family” of instruments as will still allow aural connections. It should be clear that the drums are related and are making interlocking melodies, as are the metal and wood instruments. It is suggested that ensembles assemble sets of instruments with similar sounds and wide melodic ranges. All six sets should be set up in the same configuration so that all players’ arm motions are visibly similar (i.e., all drums on the player’s left, all metal dead center, all wood to the right).
Unequal temperament is preferred between mallet instruments. Do not try to find sets of instruments that are perfectly in tune with one another.
Evan Ziporyn’s Melody Competition pits six performers against one another in a race against, and sometimes towards, ensemble unity. Throughout, players pair up, form trios, quartets, split apart, form new alliances, join together rhythmically, harmonically, break up, explore new means of musical discourse, abandon it for another, sometimes mounting into entropic chaos, sometimes collapsing into uncomplicated clarity.
The 20-minute work climaxes in an elaborated version of a Mebarung, a “type of musical competition common in West Bali”. The two trios (right and left) compete for dominance, performing the same material but with battling tempi. After two rounds of the game, one team is left standing. From here the conflict dissolves slowly away to reveal a new rhythmic unity, a reconciliation, perhaps reluctant, as the six competitors agree to play together for a hushed coda. – Samuel Solomon