stress was commissioned by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and first performed on 27 April 1997 in Witten by the Arditti String Quartet.
The work is divided into five parts: three brief "movements" separated by two much longer "interludes". Each "movement" unfolds from a central sound-image of its own, all of which are ultimately derived from certain aspects of the closing moments of my orchestral composition Vanity. In the case of the first movement, this image is stark in outline, and is obsessively fixated upon, rather than 'developed'; the second and third movements involve increasingly intricate transformations undergone by increasingly intricate images, while at the same time their registral span is reduced each time by half, from six to three, to one and a half octaves, a process of compression which eventually results in the spinning out of the initial 'block' of sound into a tenuous melodic thread. In the first 'interlude', a formal process in which the quartet is split into two duos (muted violins; viola and cello) is interrupted by (often expanded and/or distorted) fragments from the three 'movements'; in the second, these interruptions remain, but the material they interrupt has been reduced almost entirely to silence. An 'attempted' symmetry is warped out of shape by proliferation and compression (the "movements") and by fracture and erasure (the "interludes").
stress is dedicated to the Arditti String Quartet, and the Vertalerskollektief.