Over several months after the completion and the premiere of my percussion quartet Melancholia (2012) I have been hatching on the idea of an organic musical formation. Time and brain energy were spent involuntarily and subconsciously on the working of solving such aesthetical, formal problem while the mind and the physical being were conducting activities like attending to chores, traveling, translating, apartment hunting, getting upset over lost causes, teaching, and starting and sketching a piece of music. It was through the activity of the last that the juncture of my thinking process and of my musical practice was forged. (This does not always happen.) Trained in two American conservatories and one graduate program which takes pride in its education of young composers on traditional craftsmanship and musicality, I am familiar with the compositional considerations of pitches, voice-leading, linear unfolding, pacing in terms of up- and down-beat, phraseology, and thinking with a regard to momentum, an over-arching form, and climaxes. Over years I have learned how to “reach a goal” and “think ahead” in a piece of music I am writing. Working on Melancholia was an experience of revelation and of a revolution for me as my mind was being suddenly, convincingly opened to new possibilities for formal design. Such possibilities include that of how a minuscule component of music – a single gesture, for instance – can become an maximized and self-contained form for a fifteen-minute long composition, and that of how one or several small and seemingly surface (in a Schenkerian sense) musical details can progress, evolve, interact, and push forward the music in their very own singular and neurotic fashion which is out of the composer’s master hand control. The latter became the sole concern in my aesthetical and formal thinking over the previous months. I realized that to succumb
to the execution and performance of such formal construction the composer would have to become semi-vulnerable, unknowing, and “blank”. This formal construction is the tranquilized reflection of a formal deconstruction; music happens in debt to each smallest musical material’s domestic or communal concerns with each other only moment to moment. Nothing is overseen or led, yet spectacles and dramas are suscitated and formulated through a logic that is of both reality and dream. I was then reminded of the idea of “flight of forms.” In his first manifesto of The Theatre of Cruelty Antonin Artaud spoke of the “imagination” in theatre: [T]he theater must pursue by all its means a reassertion not only of all the aspects of the objective and descriptive external world, but of the internal world, that is, of man considered metaphysically…. Neither humor, nor poetry, nor imagination means anything unless, by an anarchistic destruction generating a prodigious flight of forms which will constitute the whole spectacle, they succeed in organically reinvolving man, his ideas about reality, and his poetic place in reality. (The Theater and its Double, Grove Press pg. 92) By surrendering oneself to such seemingly fragmentary and foreground formal construction the composer allows herself to be placed on the same fluid plane with the music she is writing and thus allows an absolute organic unfolding of the form. The only violence the composer imposes on herself is that of self-laceration in devotion to achieve true imagination – she looks no further than her feet and lets the form(s) “take prodigious flight.” Yet, recollection and recognition (of music happened and happening) enable the composer to concentrate on and understand the moment at hand which has a ferocious energy of its own to move, or stay, or transform. The relation between the music and the composer becomes very intimate; the process of forging a piece of music in this way has a sweet quality of journal writing. While I was pondering upon this idea it so happened that at the same time I had to start composing a piece for a concert in December featuring the Lydian String Quartet, therefore I embarked on an intimate journey of writing Petits Quatuors – a selection of miniature movements for two violins, viola, and violoncello. As the traditional setting for string quartet has always implied a certain intimacy – intimacy of the space, of a sonic flux inevitably produced by four homogeneous instruments, of a communicational engagement of four people facing each other closely in a circle – I was encouraged to contemplate on ideas and personal memories that are breathing and crawling on a conscious plane in the back of my head, an infrequently visited territory. Such contemplation is neurotic, convoluted, evolutional yet obsessive, and so are the ideas and memories upon which it inhabits. These miniatures are to be the expressions and verbalizations of various “locales” and “things” which provoke various manifestations and qualities of intimacy: the small cove of a room, an unidentifiable passion, a secret, an orgasme. My meditation on the disintegration and flight of form and on the moment-by-moment progression (appearing as logical in both dream and empirical reality) allows the music (and me along with it) to pave and walk the narrow road to the interior — the very core of the musical materials, the interior of Time. Dramas and spectacles are produced in the most unexpected manner at the most unexpected places. The same materials – gestures or pitch clouds – are incessantly and thoroughly used and spent; they whisper to, inbreed with, quarrel with, defy, and boycott each others, thus a most organic, charmingly asymmetrical picture emerges among all discordances. This is a formal picture I could not have imagined if I were to willfully sculpt the music into a pre-desired shape. The ways the materials were to become at the end are also out of my control yet I will (and have had) exult over the beauty resulted in such evolutionary process. I sit down at my desk and write in my “musical diary”, obsessively over hours at a time. The pleasure is immense; the outcomes are delightfully surprising. By the end of October I finished the first two-and-a-half minute of the entire selection – I. petite chamber, the first miniature of the series – and on December 1st it was premiered by the Lydian Quartet in Slosberg Hall of Brandeis University as part of the New Music Brandeis 2012-13 season. For Petits Quatuors I summon three images:
- a horizontal Chinese scroll painting
- a dark pool of stagnant water at the brim of a lake buried under autumn leaves
- an Ori Gersht’s exploding bouquet
My formal construction of Petits Quatuors takes refuge in the metaphors created by all three images. The materials, and the logics and manners the materials pursue and react to, are suggested by the constructs and movements of these images. A horizontal Chinese scroll (ink) painting can sometimes extend several meters’ long, and one has to view the picture from right to left by visually following through the details (often time narrative) one by one. An Ori Gersht video from the Blow Up series is a documentation of an unexpected and violent outcome caused by changing the essence of a material’s substance; a bouquet of flowers was fast-frozen after treated with liquid-nitrogen and then was smashed to ruin while the petals and leaves flew all over the air as millions of fragile, porcelain-like shards. The acoustic and musical façade of I. petite chambre resembles the second image — you see a still puddle of water encrusted with fallen leaves; you finger the surface and gently brush away the leaves then a mildly rippling reflection on water reveals; finally you wade your hand into the black mass and muddy the water so all you can see is a fast-moving procession of mingled soil and leaves until when all is calm a clear mirage is formed layering atop a swirling downfall of the dust beneath.
I. petite chambre received its premiere last Saturday concluded with a live recording (here). Petits Quatuors (2012) project is to continue. I am writing on.