Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight

Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight

Please watch the video on youtube by clicking here if the video appears to be skipping frames or posing any other playback problems.

(dynamics range from pppp to f, kindly use earphones to listen to the piece if it is too soft)

Composer/Conductor: Chia, Amos
Percussion: Becky Brass
Violin I: Jaya Hanley
Violin II: Josie Calver
Contrabass I: Stephen Street
Contrabass II: Sarah James
Piano (4 hands): Will Handysides & Sally Halsey

In March 2012, Amos composed the minimalistic Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight after spending a week visiting different clock towers and researching on clockwork. The composition explores the concept of spatial music and sound localization while using a myriad of instrumental timbres, and exploiting the psychology of the audience.

Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight is a short work for a small ensemble. The music paints the soundscape of a cold and quiet room located high in an old clock tower with an orchestra of gears and pendulums working together in tandem, slowly ticking towards midnight before a haunting melody is played by the bells as the clock strikes twelve. The performance begins with the audience blindfolded or with their eyes closed, slowly having their sense of hearing adapted to the quiet ambience in the recital studio. The cold environment in the studio further contributes to the psychology of the audience, as though the audience is really trapped in a pitch-dark and quiet room in a clock tower. The denial of the audience’s sense of sight allows them to have a greater aural perception of the sounds and timbres around them, and they would not be able to see the performers around the room.

Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight opens with the vibraphone mimicking the escape wheel, ticking once every second. The two violins at the corners of the room mimic the successive gear axels down the ‘time train’ after the escape wheel, moving in a circular motion and in opposite directions. The contrabasses at the other two corners of the room imitate the heavy swinging motion of the pendulum, and its resonance is heard as it makes each oscillation while the subtle sounds produced by the piano imitates the movements of the smaller gears in the clockwork. The contrabass also mimics a clockwork movement after every minute as the axel shifts the minute hand to its next position. As the clockwork reaches midnight, the gears behind the chime mechanism releases the tension which was built up and moves to engage with the running time train, and the haunting melody of the chimes is heard by the tubular bells before the clock begins its twelve strikes of midnight.

The premiere of Clockwork: Three Minutes to Midnight was performed by the ‘Clockwork’ Ensemble in the Peacock Room, King Charles Court on April 27 and was well received by the audience and prominent composers such as Dominic Murcott and Paul Newland.