long after sudden flash

. . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time buzzing . . . so-called . . . in the ears . . . though of course actually . . . not in the ears at all . . . in the skull . . . dull roar in the skull . . .                                                                                       Samuel Beckett, Not I 

Thus, sound is called upon to convey the persistent pressure of some undisclosed trauma—a notion which I sought to explore in this composition, inspired by Not I, a dramatic monologue written in 1972 by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. In this monologue a disembodied mouth, illuminated by a single beam of light, relates a fractured narrative of an elderly woman who has passed her life in a reclusive silence, except for occasional outbursts in a frantic flood of language, like the monologue itself. Obliquely, we learn that she was an illegitimate child who was abandoned by her parents following her premature birth, and has since suffered a loveless, mechanical existence as a victim of an unspecified trauma.

I took the title of this composition, long after sudden flash from the monologue’s most frequently occurring phrase—that which triggers the memory of the trauma. This piece, however, is not an exact representation of the text, but rather an evocation of its hysterical atmosphere and fragmented narrative: the unrelenting pace of musical movement almost reaches a Perpetuum mobile, while repetitions, reconsiderations, and revisions litter any thematic development.

The piece is a set of variations—a musical form reflecting the cyclical narrative and corrupted repetitions of the monologue. The variations are developed from the material contained in the opening eight bars. This form is articulated by the recurrence of a distinctive musical phrase, heard a total of five times. This corresponds to a repeated phrase in the monologue, where Mouth refuses to admit that she is the old woman of the narrative, hence the title, Not I:  ‘what? . . who? . . no! . . she!’, screams Mouth, to which a silent auditor also onstage responds with a gesture of ‘helpless compassion’. The tone row on which this piece is based is reserved for the final, barely audible, bar: the music fades away implying that this was a merely a glimpse of a much larger event.

The piece calls for a number of extended techniques to convey the sense of hysteria in the monologue: chord clusters with forearms and clenched fists replicate the screams of Mouth as she relates the trauma; the sustain pedal is depressed forcefully by itself to echo the screams of these chord clusters; high pitches are depressed silently with the sostenuto pedal and are made audible by crashes in the lower registers, which echo these screams more dimly still.
Sean Doherty and Fiachra Garvey
long after sudden flash won the Jerome Hynes Composition Competition 2011 and was premiered at the National Concert Hall, Ireland by the pianist Fiachra Garvey as part of the ‘Raising Star Recital’. Michael Dervan, music critic for the Irish Times said ‘the piece is busily unsettled, recursive, insistent, floating moments of not quite consonance into the prevailing dissonance’.