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threshold

for string trio (2016)

Premiere: Uusinta Ensemble, June in Buffalo Festival, June 11, 2016

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Score excerpt

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Audio excerpt: Uusinta Ensemble

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About:

In Western art music of the nineteenth century and onwards, instrument becomes instrumentality as performance practice scripts instrument as means to a notated sonic end. In pianist/composer Sigismund Thalberg’s 1853 formulation, the performer “bends the [instrumental] mechanism to the will of the art.” The materiality of the instrumental medium is suppressed, rendering instrument a blank slate onto which melody (i.e. musical substance that exists independently of its physical process of production) is inscribed. As such, the instrument becomes a means for the transparent transmission of notated pitch content to listeners.

The present work takes nineteenth century metaphysics of melody as a point of departure towards the construction of a radically different aesthetic. Threshold foregrounds the inherent incompatibility between melody and instrument: the left hand fingers outline fragmentary traces of melody, while the bow is drawn at extremely low speed (at the fastest, one bow stroke in 48 seconds), perforating and destabilizing pitches fingered by the left hand. This activates a dialectical listening, a threshold listening, between the irreconcilable categories of melody (transcendent) and instrument (immanent), where each is heard only through its other.