9. The Evaporation or Mystery Technique
The Craft of Musical Communication by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger, ©2005
This technique is best executed on dynamic instruments such as the clavichord, fortepiano, pianoforte, violins and such, lutes and guitars, as well the voice. The evaporation technique is a diminishing of the volume of sound on the end of a phrase until it altogether disappears or evaporates. The technique is also used in cinema, where it is called the fade. The evaporation somehow forces the minds of the listeners to finish the phrase as it disappears. By playing with the power of suggestion, a performer can lure the music lover on a path of his or her own making. The part of the music which evaporates is usually not particularly important - evaporating the less interesting parts of the score makes them as powerful to the mind of the listener, even if they are less obvious to it.
Cognitively speaking, the brain is designed to lock on to what always appears to be out of its reach. This is why, though the eye is designed to perceive light, it is shadows which most attract it. When ideas are stated flatly and emphatically, the mind tends to treat them as unimportant, a fault of much technical writing, but when ideas are merely alluded to and suggested by inference, the mind won't be satisfied until it knows all about them. When ideas are clearly expressed with a strong point of view, the information is processed and accepted or rejected by the mind, but in either case can't be ignored. When information is ever present, it becomes part of the landscape and few notice the information, but when sound is strongly waxing and waning unpredictably, the mind of the listener is allowed to more easily grasp how the ideas are wrought and grouped. Whatever is mysterious and hidden tantalizes the soul. This is the perennial lure of the spiritual realm; brains invariably want what they can't have.
By shading a performance to reflect an understanding of the evaporation technique, as well as the other techniques, listeners feel the paradox between an understated phrase ending and the strong attention-focusing effect which is created by the evaporation technique.
Application: Choose particularly unimportant moments in the music to “evaporate”, like the ends of phrases or arpeggiated chords - moments which would otherwise fall flat. Then, prepare the minds of the listeners by gradually diminishing the volume of the sound so that only the last note, though played, is completely silent. This only works in live performances where the listeners can see the note being played but not hear it. In recordings, the note needs to be heard but also needs to be so soft that it causes the listener to feel the evaporation effect. Poetic license and a sense of what works are the best guides.