One of the big problems in any musical genre is standardization. In New Music for chamber ensembles, this manifests most clearly in the instrumentation. Most new music ensembles strive for versatility, and end up having a nice selection of instruments but most of the time, one of each. The idea behind this is that every instrument is good at certain things, and that composers will this way have the widest selection of options. For every colour and register a composer could be interested in there's an instrument in the ensemble set-up.
However, I found myself a bit frustrated thinking about certain ensemble types. There's a bias towards certain types of harmonic writing in the classical instrumental families that we're familiar with, simply by having them spread out across the registers in certain ways. But I'm often interested not in 'good spacings' for harmony and also not always in the solistic expressivity that seems to be encoded in one-of-each ensembles. Instead, I've often been interested in saturation: in filling up a certain portion of the audible register evenly with activity in which instruments participate as equals, as reflections of each other, with each voice bringing in a slightly different take on the same material.
The Barton Workshop asked me to write a piece for its Miami tour in April 2004. They were going there with three players: trombone, flute and clarinet, and would be joined by three players from the local Nodus ensemble. When it turned out that, by pure coincidence, the Nodus had the exact same line-up available, I got very excited by the possibilities. The result is a piece for 2 trombones, 2 clarinets, 2 flutes, focussing mostly on these saturated textures that I like to call 'panoramas'.
The basic constructive devices are stopwatch coordination and
the use of parallel independent accelerations and decelerations, worked
out differently in each of the six movements. There's also a gradual
spreading out across the register over the movements.
This particular sextet setup by the way is I think a brilliant combination full of potential. I hereby urge composers to write pieces for this ensemble so that we can start a tradition to rival the String Quartet! (no need not to be optimistic).
Panoramic Variations was performed at ISCM Miami, april 2004, by The Barton Workshop/NODUS ensemble; this is a recording of that performance.