Tongues of Angels was commissioned by and written for Lawrence Cherney with the assistance of the Canada Council. The tape portion is based entirely on short fragments or 'phonemes' of sounds from the two instruments used by the soloist, the oboe d'amore and English horn. Using granular synthesis these sounds were reconstructed to create a virtuosic environment with which the performer interacts. In this interaction the progression from speeds and patterns within the performance range of the instrumentalist to those achievable only by the computer creates much of the underlying dramatic tension of the work. We sense the struggle of the performer to match the virtuosity of the tape part and to transcend the limitations of human performance. The transcendence finally materialises at the end of the work when, after a gradual accelerando in both parts from syncopated rhythms through to fused textures and continuous gestures, there is a dramatic downward glissando on the tape. Despite the fact that all material was derived from the instruments heard live in the performance, the effect is suddenly that of a choir of voices, a transcendent image that inspired the Biblically derived title of the work. Perhaps it could also be a metaphor for the technique of granular synthesis that seems to break into a new sonic domain.
Tongues of Angels is available on the Centrediscs CD of the same name, CMC-CD 4793.
Technical note: The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which incorporates the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer with software for real-time granular synthesis developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. Sound densities ranging up to 2000 events/second were recorded on 8-track tape and mixed down in the Sonic Research Studio at SFU.