Sunday, September 25, 2011

Osmotic Shock

Written for Brooklyn College's Contempo contemporary ensemble:

Osmotic Shock for Chamber Ensemble
Required Materials:
1 Score Card
Stop Watches for all players
1 Flute
Alto Flute
1 Tuba
2 Pianos
2 Singers
2 Electric Guitars
1 Bass
1 viola

  Osmotic Shock is a game piece that replicates the survival strategies of microscopic single celled life forms. On the microscopic scale, life is at the whim of osmotic pressures. Osmosis, the force of water moving from areas of high pressure to low pressure, has the power to imbue some life forms with life giving force and favorable pressure conditions, or desiccate others by sucking the very life force from their cellular membranes.
    Each player in the ensemble is imbued with special abilities which allow him to survive in certain situations and force him to perish in others. This piece is a contest for the survival of the fittest where some players will be able to survive by sheer heft while others will have to think on their feet to survive. Collusion is possible, by ultimately there will be only enough resources for a single player to survive.

The players sit in a rough semicircle so that all participants may see one another. In addition to the performers there is a conductor and referee who stand side by side in the conductors position. The bass is positioned centrally so that it may be observed and listened to by all players. It is preferable that the conductor and referee be situated so as to clear the view of the audience to the players.

Throughout the coarse of the piece the role of the conductor and the bass is relatively constant. For the duration of the piece, the piece is an AB form between the conductor and the bassist. During the A sections the conductor sits idle while the bassist performs gradually accelerating glissandi over the range of his instrument.  During the B sections the conductor takes control of the bass and guides him through his range in order help destroy targeted players. The A and B sections should be in a telescoping form, with each section being shorter than the preceding section. Ultimately the movements should become violent enough to vanquish all players. By this method the ultimate duration of the piece is scaled by the conductor and bassist, though it is always possible for the players to murder one another prematurely.

It is the referee's job to monitor the health and progress of all players. He keeps track of damage to player's health and via hand signal declares certain players deceased. The referee must be intimately familiar with health characteristics of each player, and watch carefully for changes. It is also the referees job to make sure the music progressing well, and that the game isn't ending prematurely. Some creative oversight is often required, and a rather holistic application of damage values is wholly acceptable. The referee should communicate to a damaged player that he or she is damaged by flashing fingers correlating to the amount of remaining health of the player in one hand, while pointing to the specific player with the other. Dead players are signaled by a thumbs up in their general direction. It is essential that players be seated so that they can interpret the referees hand gestures with accuracy.

The players interact through the use of glissandi. Each player may move through his or her range step wise from top to bottom, skipping no notes. If a player is able to stay in phase and maintain a unison with another player, than this is considered an attack and will result in a loss of health. Some players have methods of retaliation against attacks, others simply have thick skin. Under normal circumstances damage is transferred to the attacker, defined here as the 2nd player to play the note. If there is a mass glissandi, then damage is transferred to the lowest pitched (and therefore hardier) player.

Each player has a fixed maximum speed, but no fixed minimum speed. Each player his a maximum density and a minimum density to mimic the need to conserve energy, and to prevent the players from "turtling" or retracting from game play in order to avoid competition until the final phases of the game.

The bass acts to dynamically change circumstances, tipping the power balance from some animals to other animals. When the bass is playing in it's highest registers the higher instruments deal double damage, and when the bass is playing in it's lowest registers the bass instruments deal double damage.

Once dead, players play whatever sort of unpitched noise is available on their instrument at a pianissimo dynamic. At the end of the piece the noise decrescendos to nothing.

It is essential to the proper functioning of the game that notes be interpreted as legato as possible. This provides sustained notes for potential predators to lock on to. However, players are free to improvise dynamics and articulations as they see fit.

The Organisms:
Flute: The flute is the fastest and can move with the greatest density. It may play as many as 10 notes a second, and must play at least once a second. The flute can only withstand one attack.

Alto Flute:
The alto flute cannot move as fast as the flute. It may play 7 notes a second, and most play once a second. The alto flute can withstand two attacks.

The Pianos have the advantage of selecting range to fit circumstances. Pianos can act as both high instruments or low instruments, should they happen to be in the correct range. Pianos may play up to five notes a second, and must play play at least twice a second. Pianos can only withstand three attacks. Pianos may deploy a smokescreen of three chords chords to confuse potential attacks once every 10 seconds.

Singers must may play up 5 notes a second, and must play at least once every two seconds. Singers should use their micro-tonal abilities to confuse predators looking for easy chromatic scale based prey. Once every 10 seconds singers are able to emit a hard shell of "S" based noised, allowing them to retune their next note without being caught. Any syllable is fine for singers, although maximum variation of syllables will go far to distract potential predators. The singers will be considered "high" instruments". Singers may withstand up to 5 attacks.
Electric Guitars:
Electric Guitars may play up to four notes a second. The must play at least once every three seconds. Electric guitars may play non-fretted "clicks" to deal double damage once every five seconds, as either an offensive or defensive maneuver. The guitar is considered a mid-range instrument, and therefore derives no benefit from bass swells. Electric Guitars can withstand up to 4 attacks.
The viola may play up to three notes a second and must play at least once every 6 seconds. The viola can withstand up to 3 attacks.
Tuba is the apex predator of the ecosystem. The Tuba may play up to two notes a second, and must play once every 8 seconds. The Tuba can withstand up to 12 attacks. Every 5 seconds the tubas may emit a loud flutter tongue effect during which any player attacking the tuba will be dealt double damage. 

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