for amplified string quartet
for string quartet & amplification
Evangelist is written for string quartet with amplification. From one point of view it is a quintet; with
the fifth musician behind the mixing desk, adjusting levels throughout.
It seems to me a misconception to assume that an amplified ensemble sounds the same but louder.
One makes a constant trade-off between the amplified and the acoustic: detail versus depth, volume
versus intimacy. It is perhaps akin to shining a strong but coloured light on an object - it illuminates
and clarifies but also imbues, filters, tints and even misleads.
In Evangelist, my aim was to establish a fluid, dynamic relationship between the quartet and the
amplified sound; a relationship which not only develops over the course of the piece, but one which at
certain points the music actually depends on.
To put it another way: in an acoustic (non-amplified) performance situation, there tends to be a fairly
clear and perceptible correlation between what a player does and the sound that results. We see the
violinist move the bow slowly across the strings and we hear a quiet held note – there’s a clear cause
and effect. When the sound is amplified, the equation is a bit less straightforward: we see the violinist
move the bow slowly across the string, but we may hear a note which, while in essence still quiet,
seems to dominate the ensemble. Not only this, the main source of the sound has relocated to a pair of
speakers at the front of the stage. In effect the amplification interrupts the direct link between the
player’s intention and the resultant sound and begins to act as a mediator between them.
It is this dialogue between player intention and actual sound, between performed dynamics and actual
volume, and between quartet, amplification & audience that interested me in Evangelist. The piece
opens with the viola playing fairly softly, but mixed in such a way that the sound sits atop the rest of
the quartet playing much more aggressively. At other points in the piece, an instrument is mixed
much lower than the rest, as if the player has stepped out of the quartet. And finally, still at other
points, in much the same way that a player might have several bars rest, the amplification “rests”, i.e.
is left static with no changes in the mix, allowing the focus to remain on the quartet’s ability to
balance itself unaided.
There were three reasons for the title Evangelist. Firstly, the idea of the religious evangelist and the
way he uses his voice to convey the ‘message’ is something that fascinates me, despite my having no
religious convictions. Secondly, there seems to me to be an almost religious significance attributed to
the string quartet within a composer’s output, often viewed as a creative pinnacle in his/her career.
Finally, as clichéd as it sounds, the title came to me in a dream.
Microphones & Amplification
On the first performance, 4 DPA 4060 omnidirectional microphones were used, attached under the
bridge of each instrument, using the bespoke mic mount (MHS 6001):
These or similar seem to be a good choice for this piece. A stereo PA should be employed, with each
instrument panned according to position.
The mixer indications are indicated in fours staves above the instrument staves in the score. As
Evangelist only explores volume (as far as the amplification is concerned), the only directions given
are volume indications.
Volume levels are indicated by a number between O and 4, 4 being the loudest and O being the
minimum (or off completely). These are of course relative levels. During setup, the sound engineer
should take time to work out these 5 discrete volume levels on each instrument, effected by fader
movement on the desk. How distinct they are from each other is essentially down to the engineer and
the quartet to work out what's best for the performance in the particular space the piece is being
Static levels are indicated by a number in a square box. For example, the opening of the piece has
settings 1, 1, 4, 1 for violin I, violin Il, viola and cello respectively:
which on the mixer might look a little like this:
Vn. I Vn. Va. Vc.
Obviously the chances of level 1 being at the same position on each channel is unlikely, but this gives
a basic illustration.
Gradual changes are indicated by numbers in a triangle, and a connecting line showing the direction
of the fader movement. They show the starting level and the final level. Where clarification is
required, standard notation is also used to indicate the duration or starting time of the move:
The engineer should make any other adjustments for balance during the piece as seems appropriate.
Approx. duration: 25m