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  • Alistair Smith

The Third Orchestra

The Third Orchestra

“Beyond the binary” was the first phrase Peter Wiegold used to describe what The Third Orchestra is all about. More than East and West, more than improvisation or composition, “a third way” as he put it, results when these pairs of apparent opposites are combined in his particular style. This approach draws both from his constantly evolving technique of conducted improvisation and his experience and prowess as a composer. The role of conductor serves to bridge the disciplines of composition and improvisation, as the act of directing fresh new material into a structure is akin to composition - only the time scale is different, being immediate and without possibility of revision. The music does indeed have an immediacy that only improvisation can engender. Couple this with raw material pre-composed by members of the band and you have a depth and identity to each piece that, with the volatility of the extemporised, yields an enthralling and satisfying richness to each performance. It was a privilege to be there and see a vision be realised so well.

There is an uncertainty that is inherent in this way of music making that could be unsettling to some. At times the music is in flux, finding its feet, and it’s constituent parts finding their roles within the whole. When dealing with timbres, articulations, textures and traditions that are rarely heard together, it is a matter of imagination and experiment. There is certainly potential for difficulty if the process is not approached in a sensitive and appropriate manner. I didn’t hear anything incongruous or inappropriate to my ears, and there were some daringly innovative combinations that I will describe below.

At this point it is important to emphasise the input and role of the performers themselves, as their abilities, experience and sensitivity was vital to the success of the venture. The orchestra included 22 solo musicians from all over the world, embracing a myriad of musical traditions. I think everyone was in awe of each member of the ensemble and to hear them in the various combinations that Peter instigated was delightful. Soulful spoken word met with pure soprano tone, whilst a groove of fretless bass and drums gave foundation to multicultural articulations of pizzicato and plucked gestures. Brass timbres blended with buzzing reeds and bows merged with all manner of different blown qualities.

With such a wealth of experienced, sensitive voices, and a vast range of variable parameters and levels of nuance in Peter’s hands, the possibilities seemed immense. You could feel a charge of this potential energy in the air.

Here are my responses to some of the moments that were generated that evening, together with a few quotes of Peter’s and some of the wonderful text written for the occasion.

A frenzy of forces

thrust down the rail

fixed to a frame of 11 pulses

building and bulging - blasting!

until we pierce through

and we cruise, controlled

We speed onward

past blurred vistas,

colours, images and figures

mere smears

or fractures and flashes

as we accelerate past

Then we sink

easing into a lull

a moment of repose

where we recall

and luxuriate in a stasis

of plateau

Structure is mobile

within boundaries

formed of types

of material

and modes

of making

Textures are drawn together

or torn apart

“Plot the space between

as well as the space together”

The Holy Night

Sometimes it feels to me

As if ethnicities

lose their identities

Seem stripped of their baggage

and become part of new families

of sounds

of articulations,

textures and timbres

Voices combine

rarely spoken

in conversation

agree without translation

A delightful unanimity

Korean flute

penetrates to my bones

and finds them ancient stone

staring stark at the sun

and speaking a silent wisdom

of ages beyond fathom

A buzzing sweet intensity

dips below the surface

then burns through into brightness

“Oh Black Orpheus

Is the air more clear to breath


Ursula Rucker


A halo of sound

circles of bowed brightness

arcing over each other

in soft undulations

of silken strands

Punctuated points of delicacy

give us a sense of structure

landmarks along the way

As the halo fills and gathers

widening its beam across the scape

on ever undulating waves ascending

A warmth is born within

a core of hope

Body temperature

A human voice

as pulse bounds us in being

and we return to earth

Families of articulation:

slaps and slides

bows and breath

Taps and trickles

thrums and hums

strokes and stutters

Repetition and Freedom

engulf each other

into strata of complexity

echelons of entanglement

pebbles tumble down escalators

blueprints melt around cobblestones

…and the dice of chance roll onwards…

(...perfect cubes tumbling chaotically)

Love Far Away

Voices given space to shine

speaking native tongues

Emanate from distant corners

Meeting in the warm air of a London room

Sentiments shared across language barriers

and the vast distance between traditions

Empathise through the purity of sound

of what it is to be human!

“Pay attention to the path travelled

so you can find your way back



Soprano sax melody

leading the way


As ensemble reinforces

nourishes and encourages


Out further and further

along the path

until we begin to feel a wider world

Premonition of the Space Between

The saxophone and Korean flute combined their buzzing reeds

Muted brass melted into mouth organ harmonica

Whilst ostinato ground us in time

The Poison Fire

Sliding into places

the bass paces the feel

Layer after layer is compiled

Playing with the edge

a dissonant arrangement of intensity

a tension of texture

and puzzlement of pitch relation




In the gorge of chaos

Entropy turns in a gyre

as disparate patterns

revolve around each other

content to jar against their neighbour

against the whole

and every voice is given its turn

in revolution

Drop it down

cut the chord

then let it grow again

This is a melting pot

“Crack it open!”

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