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a rift, like the breath drawn in, immaculate

for clarinet, percussion, harp, violin, and cello (2017)

Premiere: Bifrost Ensemble, June in Buffalo Festival, Lippes Concert Hall, Buffalo, NY. June 6, 2017.

Score sample: rift sample

About the piece:

The present work thematizes two constructions of transcendence with origins in 19th century Western art music—melody and teleology—and makes manifest their conditions of impossibility. If 19th century Western art music’s aesthetics of melodic lyricism sought to transcend the materiality of the instrumental medium, scripting musical sound as a transparent vessel for ineffable meaning, the present work materializes these aesthetics’ conditions of impossibility, staging melody’s submersion into its physical medium. The instruments strain to enunciate melodic fragments against the headwinds of hushed, high tessituras and instrument-specific techniques that magnify unpredictable interactions between performers’ bodies and their instruments: air sound (clarinet), quiet tremolo from a close distance (percussion and harp), and extremely slow bowing (strings).

In parallel to this approach to melody, local teleologies disperse into global torpor. If melody constructs a transcendent lens guiding the perception of spectral information, effacing a sound’s physical process of production in favor of abstracting a stable, singular pitch identity, teleology performs similar work in the domain of time, directing attention away from the material surface, towards directional syntax. The present work constructs traditionally teleological narratives on a local level, justifying events within and between phrases through the accumulation and dispersion of melodic momentum. However, on a background level, an inert time unfolds, as a result of a highly limited pitch tessitura (the entire piece uses only 8 pitches, all contained within a perfect fourth) and a highly static temporal frame (45 second silences alternate with sonic continuities of comparable length). The combination of gentle foreground teleology with monumental background inertia might be experienced as teleological lines of force provisionally coalescing before evaporating into immobility.