a point in the landscape (2020)
This is a timecode-supported polytemporal orchestral piece.
The piece is dedicated to my friend and colleague, the conductor and musician Ilan Volkov, whose belief in and support of my work engendered the creation of this orchestral piece. Where the prospect of orchestral music without a conductor and score would send many orchestras, conductors and artistic directors fleeing to the hills in horror, Ilan has seen the potential in this new method of composing and performing perceptually complex polytemporal orchestral music, an act of faith I am deeply indebted to.
Duration circa 20-minutes
At times, the sound-textures in a point in the landscape verge on the extreme. These extremes and their capacity to overwhelm the ear are intentional: during phases of maximum polyphonic density where all or a great many instrumental parts are performed at simultaneously different speeds (polytemporal performance), the numerous layers of independent, sometimes heterogeneous materials compete with one another for dominance, generating a sustained, intricate, complex and frenzied state throughout several phases of the composition that may prove perceptually challenging to disentangle.
To prevent a descent into sonic chaos and establish dramatic impact between materials, extremes of polytemporal density are contrasted with less dense and less chaotic sounding content. The movement between these two states — between perceptual obfuscation and clarity — obsessively undertaken several times within the piece’s 20-minute duration, mark the cyclic journies that constitute the composition’s narrative and structure, a narrative driven forward by an often relentless momentum that like a moth inexorably drawn to a flame, only burns itself out in the composition’s final moments where all sounds return to the silence from which they emerged.
To help distinguish the multiple polytemporal stratifications of this sonic landscape, the orchestra is apportioned into eight spatially positioned ensemble groups located around the performance area. Each of these groups comprises of different instrumental arrays within which every player uses independent simultaneous tempi and where each group is a colouristically distinct ensemble with no exact temporal relationship to any other. The intention is for the audience to experience the music from among these groups with each listener gaining a uniquely different aural perspective.
Unusual in temporally complex music of this type, narrative and structure are maintained without a conductor. The players themselves are responsible for the unfolding of the piece using only timecode represented as minutes and seconds above each bar in their parts indicating duration and time passing, read in conjunction with loosely synchronised individual mobile phone stopwatches showing clock-time passing with the ambition of roughly synchronising timecode and digital clock-time in performance. However, this unfolding does not produce exactly repeatable performance outcomes. The balance between the composer’s intention to control structure, dynamics and expression, for example, through notational instruction, set against the idiosyncrasies and flexibility of player mediation of that notation using timecode and stopwatches to produce what is actually heard, results in each performance being uniquely different in the vertical alignment of its detail. It is the uncertainty around how the details of this balance manifest in performance that excites me. Nevertheless, together and mediated with care, timecode and stopwatches provide the players with a temporal framework for coordination and structural organisation that no matter how simultaneously different the speeds and character of their materials, ensures dynamic, self-similar, near-determinate outcomes of the piece.
The culmination of spatialization, polytemporal performance and heterogeneous materials make this a music of extremes, of hyper-activity, hyper-density, quicksilver colouristic fluctuations, of perceptually complex sound combinations articulated through demanding, virtuosic instrumental part-writing that requires great technical facility, expressive insight and emotional stamina from performers when mediating its notation and instantiating its sound.
For audiences, I suggest listeners surrender to the music’s spatialized visceral energy, its life force, textural stratification and intricate, ever-changing sonic relationships — to its coruscating effect — as it physically surrounds them, heading for that point in the landscape (a point of each individual’s choosing), without any need to comprehend what the music ‘is’ or ‘means’ beyond a pageant of entangled sound journeying through time to coalesce as music.
For more information about how timecode-supported polytemporal music works, please watch this video: