Douglas Geers
Laugh Perfumes

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Title Laugh Perfumes
Genre: Concerto for amplified violin and orchestra, with theatrical components
* orchestra: 3,3,3,3;4,3,3,1;piano; 2 perc; timp; strings
* (chamber version in-progress)

22 minutes

Available upon request

MP3 excerpt HERE
Audio of complete work available upon request.

Clip available via image to the left and HERE.
Complete work upon request.


Laugh Perfumes is a twenty-two minute concerto for amplified violin and orchestra, and was premiered on October 26, 2006 by soloist Maja Cerar and the Radio-Television Orchestra of Slovenia, Evan Christ, conductor.  The premiere performance was part of the Unicum Contemporary Music Festival, and was part of the 2006 American Music Days celebration.  This concert was a subscription series concert that was broadcast on live national radio and subsequently shown twice on the Slovene national television network.  

The work was commissioned by the 2006 Unicum Contemporary Music Festival especially for its theme “The stage—a place for new music.” Laugh Perfumes embraces this concept, transcending traditional ideas of a violin concerto by incorporating visual and theatrical elements.  The work was written expressly for violinist Maja Cerar, who has forged a unique path among contemporary virtuosi through her bold use of multimedia and theater in concert performances.

The primary inspiration for Laugh Perfumes is the influential classic 1912 work Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg, a work for soprano and chamber ensemble which in its eccentric expressionist beauty draws from stock characters of the Commedia dell’arte theater tradition.  In Laugh Perfumes, the violin soloist becomes the focal point embodying Pierrot figuratively, while the orchestra portrays Pierrot’s wildly varying thoughts and emotions through musical means of texture, dynamics, and rhythm. 

Meanwhile, Laugh Perfumes intensifies the bonds between soloist and orchestra through visual and dramatic elements.  A large sculpture onstage symbolizes the Moon, which is the object and the cause of Pierrot’s desire and demise, and special focused lights represent moonbeams.  The soloist engages with the visual objects both musically and physically to evoke Pierrot and his obsessions, including traversal of a ramp that leads back into the orchestra and toward the Moon sculpture. 

Together, the image of the Moon, the movement of the soloist, the lighting effects, and the music create an unpredictable path of vivid, sweet, and uncanny scenes of sensuality, intrigues, and nostalgia inspired by Pierrot Lunaire.  The character of Pierrot is drawn as a psychologically unstable soul searching for meaning and comfort in a complex, sinister world, and the multiple “scenes” of the concerto follow Pierrot from his discovery of the Moon through his final attempts to achieve complete union with it.

Laugh Perfumes is structured in seven major sections, roughly equal in length:
1.    Dream 
2.    Rubies
3.    Absinthe
4.    Moonstruck
5.    Nostalgia
6.    Red Mass
7.    Moon Union

Unlike most concertos, the violinist in Laugh Perfumes wears a small wireless microphone on her instrument.  The microphone’s signal is sent to a small speaker near her initial position onstage.  The amplification is used to allow for the softest violin sounds to be audible in the concerto setting, even while the soloist moves to numerous positions.  The musical materials for the piece take advantage of the intimacy possible because of the violin’s amplification, and include exploration of both fine nuances and extremes of tone color. 

The concerto’s themes and harmonies are completely original, but were developed with the use of melodic, rhythmic, and timbral materials derived from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. However the Laugh Perfumes themes create their own unique sound world, with overt references to Pierrot shimmering through in fleeting moments.  Harmonies were created by extracting and analyzing intriguing spectral moments from each poem of a recording of Pierrot Lunaire, and each of the seven major sections of Laugh Perfumes relates to materials derived from three of Schoenberg’s Pierrot settings.  Regarding orchestration, beyond the opposition of solo and tutti there is also a concertino group of instruments that shines prominently in the texture, that of the instruments Schoenberg used in Pierrot Lunaire:  flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello.

Formally, Laugh Perfumes has a “fractal” organization based on a seven-note motive from Pierrot Lunaire.  That is, the composition has seven major sections, each having as its tonal center one pitch from the following motive, which appears in the piano’s first measures of Pierrot Lunaire: G# - E – C – D – Bb - C# – G.  Each of the seven main sections of Laugh Perfumes further divides into seven sub-sections, and these also follow the same pitch contour (although transposed) of the motive above.  Each of these sub-sections is then divided into seven, with pitch mapped similarly.  Thus the ostinato that opens Schoenberg’s Pierrot is imprinted on multiple levels of the structure of Laugh Perfumes.  The seven large-scale sections of the concerto may be thought of as the concerto’s “movements,” but most occur attacca in performance, so that the orchestra rarely falls to complete silence between sections and creates a single gestural arc

If you would like to know more about the methods used to compose this piece, please email Doug Geers.