Composer - Hamilton, David

The Faraday Cage (NZTrio commission, premiered September 2015) – 13′

1. Inside the Cage
2. Outside the Cage
3. Inside Out and Outside In

David Hamilton is best known as a choral composer, although he has written a considerable quantity and variety of chamber music also and was delighted to be commissioned for this, his first piano trio, having known Ashley when he was a school student and been a long-time fan of the trio. ‘The Faraday Cage’ struck him as a great name for a piece, and although he professes no aptitude for science, he was initially interested in mathematics as well as music – “I studied first-year maths at university, and that knocked any further enthusiasm for maths out of me! From that point on it was clear what my path was going to be.” He writes:  

An electric field is a force field surrounding a charged particle, such as an electron or proton. A “faraday cage” is designed to block external static electric fields. Usually the “faraday cage” is an enclosure formed by conductive material or by a mesh of such material. Often they are literally cage-like. They may be as simple as a chain-link fence or even an ice bucket, whereas others will be formed from fine metallic mesh. Regardless of appearance, they take electrostatic charges, and distribute them around the exterior of the cage, channeling electricity along and around, but not through, the mesh, providing constant voltage on all sides of the enclosure.

Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), who invented them in 1836.

The title was the starting point for the work, and suggested sparks and electric currents running around the surface of some object. Beyond that the music is not intended to literally conjure up a “faraday cage” although there is a small musical hint of one. The opening sounds from the piano are the extreme notes of the instrument (lowest A and highest C) – suggesting that this is the inside limit of the cage through which nothing is penetrating. But there’s also incredibly energy on the inside which is trying to escape beyond the cage.

In the second movement (“Outside the Cage”) the same two notes in the mid-range (A below middle C and the C an octave above) represent the cage, and in this section the music never ventures inside these pitch boundaries – except at the very end of the movement where the cello’s open A string is used in the final chords. The final movement, “Inside Out and Outside In”, is an energetic free-for-all and suggests the energy of the electric field being diverted around the cage, twisting and turning this way and that. Alert listeners will spot significant use of the notes C-A-G-E in the opening bars of this section of the work! 

Written for, and dedicated to, NZTrio with funding from Creative New Zealand.

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