Philip and Kit during a rehearsal of WHALE

At the end of 1992 André Fischer invited me to take part with him in a “Podium” concert (organised by the city of Zürich) in December 1993. He wanted to write a large choral work for Heini Roth’s vocativ choir and he suggested I write a work for the same choir too.

I had long considered the possibility of using whale song, but the big problem was that the whale song was already perfect! I finally decided on a scenario of a conversation between people and whales, where people imitate (imperfectly) the whales and the whales the people (rather more successfully!) The obvious people for me to use were the Maori people who already have a close affinity to whales.

The tape uses imitations of whale sounds made with Composers Desktop Project programs and also an fof synthesis program which Gerald Bennett invited me to use his on his much faster Macintosh. He was also able to help me with the formants for the vowels in “Haere mai”, which the whale “says” at the end of the piece. The tape was finished first and Gerald invited me to show it in a concert of his computer music class at the Conservatory. I was reluctant to show it as tape alone so decided to make a version for trombone and tape. This turned out to be more successful than the choral version. I could work closely together with Philip - working from sounds which he suggested. As a result this work was performed a number of times: on the same program with the choral version, in several concerts of the Swiss Computer Music Center and in the 1994 Bourges festival. It also appeared on a CD of the Swiss Center for Computer Music (1999).

WHALE uses Abelian Form with proportions related to the letters: W H A L E (13 8 3 5 3 - numbers from the Fibonacci Series)

One can imagine an attempt by a man to make conntact with a whale. He calls, using a Maori Karanga (call) which the whale finds rather curious but finally obliges by repeating: Haere mai at the end.

Abelian Form

Proportions abel

The sections are designated in the score with the following letter-pairs: abel

Abelian form is characterised by a symmetry about the leading diagonal (see dotted red line above). The symmetrical sections (which have the same proportions), e.g.: Wh/Hw, El/Le, etc. contain much the same material

For sung sounds which are outside the range of the trombonist’s voice, the note may be sung an octave higher

Here is the first page of the score:

WHALE - Philip Powell (trombone)