Thea Musgrave’s “Narcissus”

Hello All,

This is Lindsey H., a member of the LOLs.  I am currently finishing my master’s degree in flute performance at LSU.  I focus mostly on performing Contemporary works and was fortunate enough to adapt my master’s program at LSU to focus on new music performance and methods of research for 21st/20th century music.   After taking every possible Musicology class that involves new music that LSU has offered during my time here, I wanted to find another outlet where I could use research and analytical skills, and adapt them to the performance of more current works.  For me, joining the LOLs began as another research project into learning how to perform electroacoustic works and studying how composers work with electroacoustic media. Over the past eight months, however, I have found that working with the laptop ensemble has allowed me to incorporate all the things I love the most: Performance, Research, Problem-Solving, and Technology.   My first semester in LOLs was spent learning how to work with ChucK, and developing an idea for a spring semester project.  By the time December came around, I found the perfect project that would help me in learning how to use MAX/MSP.  I wanted to adapt Thea Musgrave’s Narcissus for laptop.  This decision triggered my four-month endeavor into learning MAX/MSP and developing my own Narcissus patch.

Below is a brief account of my four-month Narcissus experience.

~ Lindsey H.

Thea Musgrave’s Narcissus

The idea to work on Narcissus came from attending Pat Spencer’s “Now and Present Flute Seminar” in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.  While I was there, we were fortunate enough to experience using Pat’s digital delay set up.  It was an awesome and unique experience, and I instantly fell in love with the piece.  Unfortunately, this piece is rarely performed, which is most likely due to fact that the equipment is not readily accessible.  Also, performing the piece is challenging in that the performer is required to be in control of elements outside of the instrument itself.  Performance of the piece requires the operation of three foot-pedals, as well as hand control over the digital delay system; all while performing 16 minutes of technically challenging music.  I thought that the piece would be a great subject for a new realization.  In creating a laptop version, I wanted to give the performer more ease during performance by designating less outside elements to control.  I wanted to develop a patch that required the use of only two foot-pedals, and no hand controls.  This meant that I would have to build a patch that could cycle through ~54 presets all through one pedal.   I also decided to keep the original volume foot-pedal so that the performer could have more room for interpretation during performance.

Narcissus was originally written for solo flute with digital delay.  It was composed in 1988 and written specifically for the Vesta Koza DIG 411 delay system.  This delay system is no longer manufactured and hard to find.  Most performers use newer delay systems and adapt these systems to their performance demands. However, the problem with using newer systems rather than the original is in the interpretation of specific parameters.  For example, in the Appendix of the published flute score, there is a diagram of the Vesta Koza DIG 411 delay system and it indicates: Feedback ranges from -10 through 0 to + 10 (with 0 to +6 being used) and modulation depth ranges from 0 – 10 (with 0 to 2 being used).  Newer systems require finding an approximation of settings/parameters to the original, which can be a difficult task for a performer of this piece.

The biggest issue I encountered in interpreting this piece was how to define parameters in MAX/MSP.  I wanted my patch to have all of the correct data programmed into it, so that the performer would not have to be responsible for it.   What does feedback 0-6 mean? What is the pitch variation in a modulation depth of 1 or 2? In order to understand how to set parameters in MAX/MSP I researched articles and dissertations on this specific piece.  Fortunately, I found an amazing paper by David Brooke Wetzel titled “Analysis and Reconstruction of Interactive Electroacoustic Works for Obsolete Technology: Thea Musgrave’s Narcissus.”  In it, he explains the parameters of the original system.  Wetzel ran analyses on the Vesta Koza DIG411 Delay, and was able to formulate the closest numbers for repetitions in a delay, over certain amounts of time.  He gave the closest approximations in numerical data that is specific to MAX/MSP.  This helped me overcome the biggest obstacle of creating my patch.

Despite the challenges I’ve come across in building this patch, it was an awesome experience.  The time and effort that went into creating the Narcissus patch was absolutely worth it.  It enabled me to learn MAX/MSP, required lots of research (which I’m always up for), and allowed me to perform an amazing piece of music.

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2 Responses to Thea Musgrave’s “Narcissus”

  1. posselius says:

    Excellent, I rebuilt the Vesta with MAX/MSP too and a Behringer footpedal.
    If you want, you can read about it on my blog

  2. Erin Torres says:

    Hello! Sounds like you did incredible work for this project!! I am a doctoral flute player in Ohio and I am hoping to program Narcissus on my last recital program. Is there anyway that you might be able to contact me through email so we could discuss it? My address is

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