4:48 psychosis (2017)
 stage play, drama, illumi-nation theatre 
 dir: michele mcnamara 

A play notorious for it’s lengthy contemplations of depression and suicide, and the fact that the playwright, Sarah Kane, took her life shortly after finishing this work.


polyrhythms: (2 vs 3 and 3 vs 4) give a sense of competing mental processes

limited harmonic material: though there are clearly different stages, much of the material is repeated over and over, trapping the listener in their “current state”, then jolting them out at each change

textural focus: whilst, compositionally, Glass’s work could be viewed as homophonic (melody with accompaniment), the piano arrangement is such that it is absorbed more as a complete texture than a lead part and supporting part.  The listener is enveloped in sound, not invited to “sing along”

changing tempo: being a “solo performer” piece, the fluid tempo is emphasised, pushing and pulling at the listener.  Due to the limited musical material, the listener knows what is coming, but the varying tempo means they don’t quite know when it will happen, creating a certain nervous anxiety

solo performer: keeps the music very coherent, “coming from the same place”, despite fluidity

I transformed these ideas into features I wanted to work with:

continuously varying tempo: set ranges within which the tempo continuously varies, and make the pulse evident to different degrees.  The listener has a sense of a flow, but may be pushed too far and over the edge at any moment, or be dragged down into a black hole of stasis

limited pitch “delivery system”, with subtly varying harmonic material: there is a tonic, or “central” pitch”, supported by traditional harmonic rules, anchoring the listener, but these rules can change very fluidly without a textural change, dragging the listener through different states whilst the emotional intensity stays the same.  Another way to make them feel uneasy

textural focus: details of pitch and rhythm decided aleatorically (“by chance” - I use random number generators and probability functions) so that “horizontal” (one after the other) relationships are not too tight and attention grabbing

tempo lock for virtual ensemble: whilst the tempo varies continually, the various instruments play perfectly in time - they all come from the “same place” (the tortured mind of the “storyteller”)

no tempo lock for piano piece: a direct response to “Mad Rush” was composed as the starting point for this score.  Whilst the length of each ostinato is very similar, the actual tempo (for each individual part) is completely free (other than moving from slow to fast and back to slow each cycle), giving rise to almost infinitely complex and organic polyrhythms

performable computer program: actually “performing” the music each show (rather than pre-recorded music) will ensure more life due to genuine interaction with the actors, and better and more accurate musical developmen

The piano roll for "Arrhythmia", my response to Philip Glass's "Mad Rush"

The piano roll for "Arrythmia", my response to Philip Glass's "Mad Rush".


In our initial contact, Michele mentioned she was thinking of using Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush” as an opening and closing piece.  Not wanting to be outdone by Glass, I analysed the piece and noted my favourite features and those I felt lent themselves to the text.

At time of writing, it is still a month until the workshop performance of this show at Deakin University, and development will continue throughout the year in preparation for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.  I am excited about the rehearsal period, as I get to refine my program and develop my performance technique, which is different, to some degree, for each new program I write.

The graphic user interface for my 4:48 Psychosis program, created with Max MSP.