Cercle du Nord III (2005)
string quartet (or string orchestra)
Commissioned for the Kronos Quartet with funding by CBC Radio Two and Radio-Canada's Espace Musique. Travel funds to attend the Canadian Premieres in Whitehorse, Vancouver and Calgary provided by the Canada Council for the Arts
"The three-hour concert began with a few non-Indian works, including arrangements of short pieces by the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros and an Ethiopian composer, Getatchew Mekurya, as well as "Cercle du Nord III," an inventive, rich-textured score for quartet and electronic sound by the Canadian composer Derek Charke." – Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
"Elsewhere on the program, Canadian composer Derek Charke's "Cercle du Nord III" wove Inuit throat-singing and barking sled dogs into a taped rhythm track that chugged along under toe-tapping minimalist writing for the quartet." – Joe Banno, Washington Post
"The quartet began the night with perhaps one of the strongest arrangements, Derek Charke's ‘Cercle du Nord III’.” – Matt Sedlar, The DCist
Listen to the ending:
Note: there are two versions of this work. (1) The original version is scored for string quartet and soundtrack (no throat singer). (2) An alternate version for string orchestra and (optional) throat singer was created for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Tanya Tagaq Gillis. Please be aware that the string orchestra version can be performed with, or without a throat singer. To accommodate this there are two versions of the soundtrack (1) one for use when not using a throat singer and (2) one for use with a throat singer. Furthermore, this is a concerto grosso arrangement which requires that the smaller ripieno ensemble be amplified (along with the singer). The larger concertino ensemble can be acoustic.
If you are interested in programming either version, please contact me directly.
Cercle du Nord III was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet in 2005/2006. They performed this work over 35 times in numerous countries and venues, such as Carnegie Hall, the Chan Centre in Vancouver and others.
Like it's predecessors Cercle du Nord III is based on a combination of Inuit throat singing games, or Katajak and circle bowing techniques on string instruments. Cercle du Nord I is for string quartet alone, Circle du Nord II is for tape alone. It seemed fitting that this most recent piece for both string quartet and tape would be the third instalment in the series. Cercle du Nord III can be performed either with string quartet and tape or a throat singer can improvise with the ensemble.
On the recorded soundtrack I attempt to capture the sonic environment of the Canadian far north. In it I use original sounds collected from various sources. A trip in March of 2005 to Inuvik, Northwest Territories provided many of the natural sounds of the north including birds, dogs, dog sledding, walking and running in the snow and wind. As I was trying to capture these sounds I found the sounds of modern life infiltrating the pristine environment. Snowmobiles, trucks driving on the ice roads and a pervasive hum of the Inuvik power plant. I added the sound of a synthesizer, shakers and a grunting flute sound. These were recorded in my home studio. Some of the vocal sounds were also recorded by myself and string quartet sounds were taken from personal studio recordings of my Inuit Throat song Games for String Quartet recorded at SUNY Buffalo in 2003. Other sounds were recorded by students and faculty at the Acadia University School of Music in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
For much of the piece the string quartet hockets material between two or more voices, similar to the Katajak games played between two singers. This material has been deliberately left simple, both rhythmically and harmonically not only to emulate Katajak but also to lay a foundation in which a throat singer can improvise on top of. Fiddle music is big in the north. I choose to highlight this by using a quasi fiddle tune passed between all the instruments early on. The sounds of an actual fiddler are included later on the sound track, albeit transformed through granular synthesis then put through a flange and reverb added. Grinding sounds produced by circle bowing are incorporated and near the end one of the throat song games for string quartet is performed in its entirety. As the piece progresses a synthesizer is added into the texture bringing a hint of electronica into the soundscape.
The soundscape of the north has changed. I wanted to reflect this change. Rather than create an ethereal sonic landscape of the idyllic north I choose to look for something more fitting of our times. Inuit culture has changed to adapt to modern life. Cars, trucks and snowmobiles have replaced traditional transportation. People have satellite T.V. and live in modern homes. Rock, pop, heavy metal, fiddle and folk music dominates the musical landscape.
However all is not lost and tradition continues. As the younger generation returns to their cultural roots they do so with a twist; bringing with them influences of popular culture they add to, and change their own musical heritage. As it is around the world globalization is taking hold and the north is not excluded.
Links: Kronos Quartet // Tanya Tagaq Gillis
Media DetailsThis work involves amplification. The ensemble MUST be amplified. This work uses a click track. The conductor, or individual players must have headphones for a click track. A sequencer program, such as Digital Performer, is required. The soundtrack is stereo but comes in multiple stems to assist with balance in performance. 2 monitors should be placed on either side of the stage.
David Harrington on the story behind the commission of Cercle du Nord III.
Cercle du Nord III