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Internal Combustion
Violin Concerto

A Violin Concerto from Jon Rose
with Ensemble United Berlin
conducted by Zsolt Nagy
video manipulation by Robin Fox
commissioned by maerzmusik 2008

Although historically a cadenza may have posed an opportunity and occasion to improvise, the idea of a soloist improvising his part in a fully notated violin concerto has never been considered musically viable: such a concerto has never been desired by either composer or soloist - or audience. It remains untested. It is good to know that even after the numerous experiments of the 20th century, there remain musical domains outside of the "new music" focus.
open the case
I have formulated the concerto to fully show this dialectic process. If the baroque violin concerto presents the soloist as specialist amongst equals, then the romantic concerto is clearly a battle of unequal forces - the soloist takes on the full might of a symphony orchestra. Neither of these models are used in Internal Combustion, except to say that the improvising soloist tries to deal, in a transitory methodology, with the more finished character of the notated orchestra.
violin played with a brush
As a model, I have taken two ideas from history: the continuo role generally used in the Baroque period and the jazz big band chart of the mid-20th century where a set form (in this case a 24 bar melody) is repeated with variation, harmonisation, and solos. Rather than employing an additive process, I decided on a reductive one where musical material is removed from the score by use of an accidental erasure. Even after this culling process is complete, there remains plenty left to hear.
violin played with bicycle mechanism
Other issues come into focus. Using video, this concerto quotes previous experimental work from the Rosenberg Archive that deals with the iconography and imagery associated with the violin. The archive's collection of images and sonic events place the violin in a new or completely 'wrong' context - violins in deserts, supermarkets, industrial processes, or radically de-constructed with additional necks, strings, wheels, sails, etc. Among this iconography, the audience will see the violin powered by a bicycle circling the Velodrome Olympic Stadium in Sydney; the violin reduced to a singularity after detonation; the violin as Aeolian transmitter; the violin played with brushes, knifes and forks; the violin played with ping pong balls. Some frames from these videos have been embedded in this page. Although the image samples are fixed, they can be scratched, transposed, inverted, and modulated with integrated wave forms by Robin Fox, who operates the Macintosh - thus actively placing the audio-visual material more in the improviser's camp than the orchestra's.
bow tricks
Through the use of amplification, the microscopic and incidental sounds of both the violin and orchestral instruments are magnified. These details are mixed with the more traditional sonic expectations. Transient noise elements are considered as important in the counterpoint as melodic lines
violin played with ping pong balls
With regard to the solo violin part, although freely improvised, it is rendered plain vanilla - without electronic effects or the use of the interactive MIDI bow, known in Berlin from previous violin odysseys. The improviser is free to concentrate on continuing pre-occupations of differing velocities, acceleration, collision, commentary and mismatching of materials.
violin peg performance
The listener who tries hard, or is hard of hearing, may well hear the odd reference to violin concertos from previous centuries.
violin reduced to a singularity
There exists a "budget" version of the concerto; namely a duo version featuring Jon Rose playing violin, interactive and amplified violin bows, and Robin Fox performing the audio-visual samples from computer.

Jon Rose Sydney 19/4/2008

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