Particles by Japanese composer Shiori Usui consists of four minutes of wild textural mayhem. The title suggests it’s all going to be about light, tiny impacts, and that is how the work begins. However, this opening chorus of skitterings is soon supplanted by the significant heft of what sound like intense exhalations; in turn, these are soon swept aside as a myriad glissandi get going. Usui has essentially laid out in the first 90 seconds the basic elements for the rest of the piece. Something different follows almost immediately, though, as the music opens out into a slightly clangorous soundworld, whereupon further exhalations appear and the glissandi start to dominate, though the tappings that began the work have not gone away.
It’s interesting the way Particles doesn’t so much move through different sections as either accumulate or dissipate material around its central focal point. The glissandi that end up everywhere remind me of the images created by the Large Hadron Collider, showing the spiralling trajectories of the particles they smash together. As such, perhaps the main component of the work’s material is not the particles themselves but the traces of them left behind, glinting streaks of light testifying to a momentary existence. The frantic energy finally, rather abruptly, vanishes, switching emphasis to swishings inside a piano – almost masking the outline of a melody – and a genuinely bizarre kind of muffled singing(!), silenced by a ratchet before ending in a huge final burst of more particles smashing into our ears.
Delayed due to the pandemic, Particles was finally premièred (without an audience) by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in February 2021, conducted by Alpesh Chauhan.