the half-life of facts (2014)

Marc Yeats - Composer

the half-life of facts (2014)


the half-life of facts: for flute, bass clarinet in Bb, violin, violoncello, piano. circa 15″ minutes in duration.

the half-life of facts [flt., BCL., Vln., Vc., Pno – 15 minutes] commissioned by the Australian new music group, ‘Syzygy Ensemble‘ was premiered on May 6th. at the Melbourne Recital Centre as part of the 2015 Metropolis New Music Festival.

An excellent live recording and video are available for perusal. Please ask to view these by messaging Marc via the contact page. Thank you.

The instrumentalists play independently of each other. There is no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the instrumentalists. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and variability. To this end, it is vital that metronome markings are adhered to as accurately as possible although the composer appreciates that it is the various interpretations and practicalities inherent in the realisation of tempi that contribute to the richly unique nature and interplay of each performance. Compositional material is derived from a series of distant variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks bringing cohesion and structure to the work. All the instrumental roles are written to a high degree of virtuosity and most contain extended techniques and quarter-tones. The music itself forms dense, highly complex and constantly changing relationships that are frequently wild and sometimes beautiful.

The score and parts:
I have not produced a score for the half-life of facts; difficulties and variables associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real time are considerable. Each performance will yield somewhat different results, interplays, gestural and harmonic references and outcomes. As a result, the material contained within the piece can only be read via the instrumental parts. Consequently, there is no definitive performance of the piece. the half-life of facts can only be realised through performance [as opposed to comprehend by reading through a score]; this is the nature of the music – it has to be experienced to be ‘known’.

A note about the title:
Concerns about the usefulness of knowledge and the challenges of information overload predate contemporary anxieties by decades, centuries, if not millennia. In The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date — which gave us this fantastic illustration of how the Gutenberg press embodied combinatorial creativity — Samuel Arbesman explores why, in a world in constant flux with information proliferating at overwhelming rates, understanding the underlying patterns of how facts change equips us for better handling the uncertainty around us. (He defines fact as “a bit of knowledge that we know, either as individuals or as a society, as something about the state of the world.”)

The Half-Life of Facts: Dissecting the Predictable Patterns of How Knowledge Grows by Maria Popova

“These concerns and analogies resonated with me as a composer who purposefully edges towards ‘overload’ of information [or ‘facts’] to create a state of flux and uncertainty in music where the detail and aural relationships are indeed complex but a changed perspective; an overview, can reveal larger structures and processes at work. People often talk about knowing or understanding music. I don’t want people to know my music: As a composer, I want to be surprised by it; I don’t want to make it into a known or knowable fact because, as we know, facts have half-lives. I prefer to experience the flux and form in the moment and take pleasure from the visceral engagement this produces. I hope listeners to my work are able to do the same so that the music reveals itself anew with each subsequent listening and their ‘understanding’ of it evolves over time.”

Marc Yeats