for youth ensemble and electronics
Commissioned by Arte no Tempo for the project Nova Música para Novos Músicos
Premiered May 21, 2023
Reencontros de Música Contemporânea 2023, Teatro Aveirense
dir. Rita Castro Blanco
Gehry: So they would constantly be in tension, or whatever, with each other. (…)
Diamonstein: So, the old house was the core, and the new house is the wrapper.
— Barbara Diamonstein, American Architecture Now
This piece gravitates around the essay that would become the fourth chapter in Frederic Jameson’s seminal Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism: “Spatial Equivalents in the World System”. Pondering on the organization of space, Jameson pushes the reader towards wider ranging reflections on syntax. What belongs together? How do we combine our experiences — personal or collective — in meaningful ways? The author reads through works of contemporary architecture to show how they illuminate and exemplify the “cultural dominant” that is post-modernism. Chiefly among them, the Gehry Residence: architect Frank Gehry’s own house. Originally a conventional Dutch colonial style dwelling, it was then expanded by enveloping — wrapping — the old house with seemingly ad hoc structures of metal and glass. The final impression is, according to architect Paul Heyer, one of a “collision of parts, built to stay but with a deliberately unfinished, ordinary builderlike sensibility”; of an “artistically intuitive”, “cluttered expressionistic” “accident not resolved”. With the original house almost intact, these new forms lift back “the skin to reveal the building as layers”, with new forms “breaking out and tilting away from the original”.
wrapping proposes a similar exercise. From an unchanging core, I build out a chaconne. This underlying structure is constructed (if you’ll allow two architecture puns in quick sequence) out of several strands of appropriated material (which I’ll abstain from naming): material from composers of differing relationships with their past or present, and presented “worked over, canceled, surcharged, volatilized, sublimated, or transformed” (to borrow some brilliant prose from Jameson) to different degrees — including as a direct quotation, which I am seldom (if ever) interested in. These are not solid foundations (sorry): any discernible force that might be organizing these elements — their material similarities in timbre, spectral content or behavior in time — can be quickly disintegrated or reversed. Their awkward coexistence is less resolved and rather more gotten used to through its repetition; imposition giving way to adaptation.
This space, engendered by the electronics, is inhabited by the instruments. I use this verb with license, but also with some propriety: if the unchanging structure of the chaconne suggests a certain sculptural quality, the subject-positions engendered by the instruments propose different points of view of the same space: from here, a wooden beam (let’s say) might be seen through a pane of glass; from there, a metal structure intersects an older wall, giving rise to new assemblages. Fundamentally, it is not the simple juxtaposition of distinct spaces (musical materials, in our case) that produces new forms, but their dialectical working-through, animated by the ensemble.
Lastly, this logic is present in the way of organizing the instruments themselves — or, to be more exact, in the ways the instruments organize themselves. Within the strictures of the chaconne, the work is, in fact, rather open. On one level, the players are faced not with one line, but with multiple: much like the Gehry Residence “lifted back the skin to reveal the building as layers”, so are the players faced with concurrent, synchronous staves, each with the same material in different stages of development, complexity or individuation. It is up to them — through their individual proficiencies and through an essential skill to be developed in ensemble playing, namely active listening — to navigate this tangle of layers through choice; through their own itinerary through the space, if you will. The subsequent lack of stability in the musical text is bound to be rich in “accident[s] not resolved”, as the “deliberately unfinished” musical texture (per)mutates — further evincing its constitutive layers, now at the level of instrumentation. On a formal level, each “repetition” of the chaconne highlights a particular instrument, and along with it its respective characteristic musical material; echoes of this material, however, escape this formal delimitation, and overflow into the following repetition. Coupled with the fact that the order of these repetitions is not fixed, this assures a dynamic and unpredictable (and perhaps too literal) “collision of parts”.
This piece is dedicated to Diana, in admiration of her strength, kindness and patience.