(7:09) To Stream: Mitotem

Mitotem was my first endeavour in writing for an ensemble. I was working on a film for a professor at University of Waterloo. He did not have a script, just an idea that the film would be about symmetry in nature. He was funded to make the film, but had lost all interst in the project. I was given free rein to do whatever I wanted. There was no funding to complete the film, so whatever time I spent was an opportunity to gain experience and get access to equipment.

For the ending, I wanted a dance sequence. My idea was to have dancers portray the mitosis of a human cell. I met Lenora Hume, who was a modern dance student at U of Wloo. She loved the idea and choreographed it with the help of another student,Vera Hunt. The dance was performed by the University of Waterloo Repertory Dance Company on Mar. 3 & 4, 1973 at U of Wloo and Mar. 31, 1973 at the Kitchener Public Library.

Early in the project, I tried to find existing music that I could use for the dance. This was frustrating, so in a “Hey! I can do that!” moment, I decided to write it myself. I came up with the instrumentation by listing all my musical friends. I wanted a cellist or bassist and had to expand my network to find these players: Nancy Bender played cello and Doug Wicken played bass. Among the friends in the ensemble were Tim Wynne-Jones playing percussion and Steven Naylor playing a pretty tricky piano part. I included two classical guitars, played by Evan Graham and John Constant. Klaus Gruber was one of three percussionists. Jeremy Constant (now Assistant Concertmaster with the San Francisco Symphony) and David Constant played violin and clarinet respectively.

The structure of the piece came from the scientific terms and description of the various stages of mitosis. For the introduction and the concluding sections (both entitled Interphase) , I used multi-tract recording. Three tracks plus a reference track used up all available 4 tracks. Carol Wainio sang long tones extended by a Moog synthesizer on all three tracks. The patterns were tight clusters (influenced by the Ligeti music used in the film 2001).

The second section, when the instruments enter, is called Prophase. After a pause, the Metaphase section is characterized by a series of slow, descending fifth chords. Then follows the more animated Anaphase and Telophase. The sixth part, called Cytokinesisis, is an adagio using a pizzicato canonic accompaniment. The piece ends with a return to the Interphase vocal clusters.

Raffi Armenian, then Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, heard Mitotem and gave me some advice. “You should be studying composition. I don’t know if you will be a successful composer, but you have to try. You are doing a lot of interesting things in this piece, techniques which composers were using after World War II.”

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3 Responses to Mitotem

  1. My goodness it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that! I didn’t recall anything until the pizzicato section and then it all came back! Thanks for the memory.

  2. Steven Naylor says:

    Thanks for posting this, Doug!

    Although I was terrified of screwing it up (it was my first ensemble gig playing through-composed music! ), it was a wonderful and formative experience, and I’m really glad I was able to be part of it.

  3. Carol Wainio says:

    Thanks, Doug. Just listened to this with Paul, Soren and Gabriel. My memory of those days is pretty dim, but it was really nice to be reminded of all the music that used to happen back then.

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