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viola + violin, viola & cello [ 13-15' ]

commissioned by the Formalist Quartet



Listening Through the Fractal: The Anatomy of Density in Three Recent Pieces in "The Second Century of New Music: Search Yearbook Volume 1" (Cox, Brió, Sigman, Takasugi, editors). Published by the Edwin Mellen Press. [August, 2011]



I. "It is a question of a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking o and starting up again." - Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Structure is a device functioning to organize information such that one's perception of that information is mediated by its own categorical, hierarchical simpli␣cation, thereby yielding a more de␣ned imprint upon one's memory by virtue of the fact that there is suddenly less to remember. In music, this approach to structure necessitates that local-level events function to reinforce and maintain the perceptibility of a series of ever-larger-scale organizational paradigms.


The Disappearance of Objects denies itself of this type of organization so as to oer a dierent perceptive listening experience. Through rejecting the musically structuring luxuries of silence and simultaneity, the piece communicates its information through both constancy and change, persistence and caducity. The material subverts itself - the aural fabric remains so detailed that it is in continual danger of becoming awash within a continuous, homogeneous, indistinguishable plane of sound; the construction is so hyper-structured that its faculty of yielding perceivable organization is undermined. The music, as well as the listener, is in a constant state of almost.


II. "It's not easy to see things in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left: try it, you'll see that everything changes."

The piece is all middle. It does not begin and end so much as it starts and stops. Between these points, the material is in a seething vacuum in which it is constantly reorganizing and redistributing itself at once into divergent and simultaneous speeds and slownesses, densities and sparcities.


The experience of the piece, however, is prohibited from this middle as a result of its predominance. The processing of information, the perceiving of the object, must occur at one or both ends of a spectrum: close or distant listening. At one end, it is a moment-by-moment experience in which there is an attempt to grasp every grain of sound - the object is the minutia. At the other it is a cumulative experience, whereby every moment washes over the ear and is added to a collected reservoir - the object is the Gestalt. The piece attempts not to invite so much as to induce a state in which these modes of listening are employed, perhaps in multistability, perhaps in simultaneity.


III. "Speeds and slownesses inject themselves into musical form, sometimes impelling it to proliferation, linear microproliferations, and sometimes to extinction, sonorous abolition, involution, or both at once. The musician is in the best position to say: "I hate the faculty of memory, I hate memories."


The piece operates not unlike the consciousness. It behaves as memory behaves - in a constant state of almost. What of an object is remembered when recalled? Not the object, but the experience of the object - its dimensions, its densities, its speeds and slownesses. Within memory, the object becomes its parts and is thus indexical in multiple ways. The instruments in this piece attempt to construct their sound as the memory attempts to construct its object. The sound, the object, is realized as being "fractured into the thousand variancies & textures that compose it" (Chris Kraus). Like memory, the instruments are engaged in an ongoing restoration of their ephemeral sound-object, the construction of which vibrates at the speed of its own erasure.


If the aural fabric of this piece is the reconstructed experience of some other sound-object, what is the original? I would like to suggest that this object is the very experiential imprint left upon the listener's memory, whatever form that may assume. The many sounds of the piece, their textures, densities, proportions and speeds, are reconfigured through memory into an object which forms the essence of the piece, of the listener's experience. The piece is the anatomy of its own memory and a map of this assemblage. The performance is a long remembering - a slow restoration.


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