Willem Boogman




15 minutes


flute, clarinet, percussion (2 players), piano, (digital) organ, violin, viola, violoncello

commissioned by

SPECTRA Ensemble with financial support by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts

dedicated to

Anna van der Kolk-Schreurs (1899-1975)


October 29, 2016
Orgelpark Amsterdam
Spectra Ensemble, Filip Rathé - conductor & Gerben Gritter - Van Straten Organ

Distant Voices

Modulationes super Missam Maria Zart
for nine musicians (2015-16)


listen here or in Soundcloud

Distant Voices, live recording of the premiere by Bert van Dijk | October 29, 2016 | Orgelpark in Amsterdam

program note

Distant Voices, with the subtitle Modulationes super Missam Maria Zart was commissioned by the SPECTRA Ensemble from Gent (Belgium) for their program ›Distant Voices‹.
In this program a connection is being made between the music of the Franco-Flamish polyphonists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century and contemporary music.
The Franco-Flamish polyphonists often used popular melodies to build their sacred music on. The profane melodies they ›borrowed‹ served as a structural element that provided unity in their masses, as well as guideline for the listener in a complex polyphone texture.
One of the most impressive Masses which was conceived this way is Missa Maria zart by Jacob Obrecht. In this mass the simple and in its day popular song Maria zart is being ›modulated‹ in many ways. A grid constructed according to certain numerical proportions makes out the duration of the various parts of the mass. The numerical proportions such as used by Obrecht had religious meaning and were also used to strive for perfection in architecture. The term ›modulation‹ (modulatio) thus applies to the original meanings of measuring and of singing.

In my composition Distant Voices I follow this remarkable working-method of the Franco-Flamish polyphonists. The term modulationes in the subtitle concerns the techniques with which I transform thirteen well known riffs from pop music into a different musical reality, using a numerical grid which is derived from the Missa Maria zart by Obrecht.

For Distant Voices I have chosen the following riffs:

Money (Pink Floyd), Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), You Really Got Me (Kinks), Beat it! (Michael Jackson), Owner of a Lonely Heart (Yes), Iron Man (Black Sabbath), I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), Wild Thing (The Troggs), Into the Void (Black Sabbath), Day Tripper (The Beatles), Message into a Bottle (The Police), All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan/Jimmy Hendrix).
All Along the Watchtower, which I combined with the other riffs, runs as a thread through the whole composition.

The number of bars in the various parts of Obrechts mass and the distances at which Maria zart appears in the cantus firmus form a grid of durations that make out the form of Distant Voices. I was commissioned to write a work with a length of around fifteen minutes. Obrechts mass lasts about an hour. So I folded the grid of the mass in two, as it were. This provided me with a very fine meshed grid to work on, and led to an exact total duration of fifteen minutes.

There are nine parts in the mass in which Maria zart appears in the cantus firmus:
1. Kyrie I (93 bars)
2. Kyrie III (58 bars)
3. Et in terra (97 bars)
4. Qui tollis (171 bars)
5. Patrem (119 bars)
The total number of bars is 538 within a time span of fifteen minutes, so one bar lasts 1.66 seconds.

I ›folded‹ the other parts of the mass on top of the parts listed above (so Nr 6 starts parallel with Nr 1):
6. Et resurrexit (153 bars)
7. Sanctus (198 bars)
8. Osanna (84 bars)
9. Agnus dei III, in which Maria zart appears as a whole (85 bars)
The list in this layer sums up to 520 bars.
The difference with the first layer is 18 bars: a coda remains.

On this grid I modulated the riffs in pairs, as follows:

I. Money & Smells Like Teen Spirit on Kyrie I + Et resurrexit
II. Smoke on the Water & You Really Got Me on Kyrie III + (continuation of) Et resurrexit
III. Beat it! & Owner of a Lonely Heart on Et in terra + (continuation of) Et resurrexit + (beginning of) Sanctus
IVa. Iron Man & I Can’t Get No Satisfaction on Qui tollis + (continuation of) Sanctus
IVb. Wild Thing & Into the Void on (continuation of) Qui tollis + (beginning of) Osanna
V. Day Tripper & Message into a Bottle on Patrem + (continuation of) Osanna, and All Along the Watchtower on Agnus dei III.

There are breaks between parts I and II and between parts III and IV; the other parts follow in a continuous flow.

First all riffs have been adapted to the unit of measure on which Distant Voices is based. As a consequence some riffs may sound a little faster, others slower, but always close to the original unit of measure and tempo. In this recognizable state the riffs are played by the organ once. Hereafter the riffs have undergone radical transformations that undermine their identity and make them fluent.
As a starting point for this procedure serves the fact that a melody consists of elements (parameters) which can be used for composing in isolation. One parameter can be made inactive by applying only one value to it. For instance I fix the pitch of the riff Money on one tone while the rhythm remains active. The other way around also yields interesting results: a rhythm can be fixed while the pitches which form the melody remain unchanged. Now the parameters of one and the same melody can move independently from each other as a kind of polyphony.
Once penetrated to this ›Musical DNA‹ it is also possible to combine the parameters of different melodies. The pitch of one can be combined with the rhythm of another. Thus new melodic forms ensue, which still, though distantly, relate to their donors.
These and other techniques for modulation I use in Distant Voices have been described by Stockhausen in his article ›Musikalische Metamorphose‹ (1983), and have often been used by him.

Distant Voices was written in commission of the SPECTRA Ensemble and and supported by Amsterdam Fund for the Arts.
In memory of my grandmother, Anna van der Kolk-Schreurs (1899-1975).

Jacobus Obrecht, Opera Omnia, Missae: VII, Maria Zart, edidit M. van Crevel, Amsterdam 1964
Karlheinz Stockhausen, ›Musikalische Metamorphose‹ in Texte zur Musik 1977-1984, Band 5, Köln 1989

(Translation by Sandra Macrander)

Read more
Read more about these music composition techniques in Notes - No Notes, nr 7

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