It has been an extremely rewarding experience working with the deeply committed members of The House of Bedlam over the last couple of days. The group have been preparing my new piece, Meeting the Universe Halfway (2018, for instruments and apparatuses) ahead of its premiere on Wednesday [02.05.18] in Manchester. The full gig info is here. I thought I'd write something about the piece.
The title of my piece is a reference to a book of the same name by contemporary American philosopher of science and materialism, Karen Barad. Amongst other things, in the text Barad develops a concept of an 'Apparatus', which, put grotesquely simply, is a "something" that allows "a something else" to be viewed - a "something" that allows that "something else" to matter. Crucially, for Barad, an apparatus is not passive, but active in mattering. As in the famous double-slit experiment in quantum physics showed, the means of viewing something changes that which it is.
I created three musical apparatuses for this piece, taking the form of simple gravity-powered instruments that sonify chaotic systems. With all the apparatuses, the human operator's input is only very tenuously linked to its sonic output. In a sense, the matter from which my apparatuses are made is really in control of its sound. As such, these apparatuses are active in the sound-making process. These new contraptions are performed alongside and by the same players as 'conventional' instruments (saxophone, flute, electric guitar, cello) throughout the piece.
I created each of the three apparatuses with two conceits: (1) They create sounds from one material; (2) The chaotic behaviour they exhibit is analogous to an archetypical compositional technique. Apparatus I explores metal and its behaviour is generally canonic. Apparatus II explores stone/ceramic and is analogous to a hockett. Apparatus III explores wood and forms a kind of organum.
The piece uses juxtaposition of human-controlled instruments (fl/sax/gtr/vc) and material-controlled instruments (Apparatuses I, II & III) as its central discourse. The material-driven canons of Apparatus I are overlaid with more pitch-derived canons in the instruments, for example. Likewise, this material/human distinction creates larger-scale trajectories. For example, the manner in which the 'conventional' instruments changes, allowing these instruments themselves to operate akin to the apparatuses. In the piece's drawn-out conclusion, a kind of halfway space is forged.
The members of The House of Bedlam have been incredibly patient and enthusiastic about making this logistically problematic project come together, I'm so grateful to them for going on this journey with me! And I'm also hugely thankful for the incredible help and support I've received from my father, who has tirelessly helped me build the apparatuses and take over his garage in the process. I genuinely couldn't have done this without him.
I hope that provides a little context for what will happen on Wednesday. It looks set to be a really fantastic evening, especially given that the work presented alongside mine is by artists I so greatly respect and admire - including Joanna Bailie and Hanna Hartman as well as House of Bedlam director, Larry Goves. At any rate, I hope to see some of you there.