About the Piece
Hydra is a work in progress, dedicated to the memory of my friend and colleague Haladhara Dasa, who passed away in 2015. It's written for one of the variants of a "Pierrot Ensemble": flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. Once it's finished, Hydra will have six movements, each named after a Greek letter, starting with Zeta and working back to Alpha. This references a project Haladhara wanted to get involved with but never did, a project he called "Hydra" in which multiple composers would work together on one piece. On the other hand, it also reinforces the meaning of the title: Hydra, "a creature with several heads."
Haladhara Dasa (1958-2015)
Haladhara was a very smart man, fascinated by art and science, a bit taciturn, but with a sense of humor (when he felt like it) and I found in him a certain spirit of kinship. We met several times to have coffee and talk about music and, at one of those meetings, he told me about his newly developed compositional method called Wave-Constellation. He explained it to me in detail and showed me the score of his most recent composition, written using that method. He was looking for a particular kind of aesthetic for his music, so he created this method to produce a specific type of result. I found it very interesting, but never thought of using it myself.
In 2012, he gave a lecture at UPC, where I worked as Director of the School of Music. In it, he explained his method to the students and handed them a short booklet that we printed at the university.
Three years later, in 2015, he fell ill and died shortly after. His death made me very sad because I really enjoyed talking to him and exchanging our ideas about musical composition and science. However, I must say that he was overjoyed. He was going to be with Krishna and was very happy about it, and somehow that comforted me.
One thing Haladhara wanted with his method was to convince other composers to use it. In fact, he had come to the conclusion that it could be used by multiple composers working together in a collaborative composition. He called this the “Hydra” project, after the mythical creature of the Greek tradition.
After his death, I had the idea to compose a piece in his memory. I spent a few years wondering what exactly to write. Then it occurred to me that the piece in question would have to be written using his method and I remembered that I had kept a copy of the booklet. I studied it thoroughly, filling in some gaps with what I remembered from our meetings, making some minor adjustments, and even automating part of the process with the help of a spreadsheet. Then I found the article where he explained the Hydra project and decided that would be the name of the piece.
You can hear some of Haladhara's works on his Soundcloud channel, which is still live. Unfortunately, all the tracks are computer mockups.. His music has not been played much and, for reasons I don’t know, he didn’t upload the few recordings that he had access to. Still, the demos are good enough to listen to and get a basic idea of what the pieces would sound like when performed by live musicians. There are also some purely electronic tracks for which the above doesn’t apply, of course.
The Wave-Constellation Method
Haladhara's method could best be described as a kind of paper program (rather than one for a computer). Haladhara made some adjustments to it over the years, but the basic idea remained. The purpose is to limit the freedom of the composer to very few options and to let him produce a work with a very specific kind of aesthetic. It’s inspired by Serialism but, unlike it, the result is not a fixed sequence of musical events.
In the first part—the wave—the composer creates a matrix of 12 rows and a chart of rhythmic possibilities and uses both to establish the rhythms of each section of the composition. In the second part, a chord created by the composer serves as a means to obtain 12 sets of six pitches each—12 constellations. The composer then combines both parts of the process, arbitrarily assigning the pitches of each constellation—the stars—to the rhythms obtained in the first part.
In Haladhara's terms, the composer "pours" the notes of the constellations into the "rhythmic molds" obtained from the wave. Details like the precise octave, articulation, dynamics, etc. are left to the discretion of the composer. The result is very consistent and organic, and if the initial set of conditions is not too narrow, the method leaves enough room for intuition and play.
Clarinet in B flat (also Bass Clarinet)