This work was inspired by the ‘overtone’ (split-tone/throat) singing of the NGQOKO Women’s Group from the Eastern Cape. Having worked with this vocal ensemble I was immediately impressed by the richness of tone and timbre produced in their music by this vocal technique. In this piece no literal transference of that sonic world is attempted, but rather the concept of harmonics and pedal points (fundamentals) has been introduced to add a special colour.

The intervals that dominate the work are octaves, fifths and thirds, namely, the strongest partials in the natural harmonic series. These generate multi-phonics which enrich the texture. Lively octaves in contrary motion open the piece and these are located on a shifting “Bb” pedal point. The rhythmic patterns fall naturally into groups of notes in twos and threes irrespective of the changing metre with subtle alterations of values. Although there are polyrhythmic moments, the focus is more on cross-rhythms and vertical harmonic states. Ambiguous major and minor thirds further emphasise the harmonic series.

The unrelenting motion gives way to a central synthesis – the free expression of three fundamental tones, (C, Ab and E) in a swirl of sound and their resulting eleven overtones. This is followed by a grounded section in rotating motion around the pedal points of Eb and Bb, sometimes straight and sometimes in triplets. A return to the descending chordal figure finds itself located on the pedal point of Eb, the obvious ‘dominant-tonic’ relationship, manifest in the natural acoustic realm of the overtone series. Clever use of the sustaining pedal can enhance this sound-world.

The piece comes to a close with a return to the octave figure, this time positioned on the Eb pedal point. Partials and Pedals is a tactile and virtuosic work that allows for relative freedom in interpretation.