Meeting the Universe Halfway (2018)
For flute, saxophone, electric guitar, cello, and apparatuses.
Commissioned by: The House of Bedlam, supported by Bath Spa University and the Royal Northern College of Music.
The title of the piece is a reference to a book of the same name by contemporary American philosopher, Karen Barad. Amongst other things, Barad develops a concept of an 'Apparatus' - 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.
Central to the piece are three custom-made apparatuses, each taking the form of a gravity-powered device that sonifies a chaotic system. With all the apparatuses, the human operator's input is only very tenuously linked to the apparatus's sonic output. In a sense, the matter from which my apparatuses are made is really in control of the sound. I created the three apparatuses each with two conceits: (1) They create sounds from one material (metal, stone/ceramic, wood); (2) The chaotic behaviour they exhibit is analogous to an archetypical compositional technique (canon, hocket, organum).
The piece uses the juxtaposition of human-controlled instruments (fl/sax/gtr/vc) and material-controlled instruments (Apparatuses I, II & III) as its central discourse. At the opening, the material-driven canons of Apparatus I are overlaid with more pitch-derived canons in the instruments, for example. Likewise, this nonhuman/human distinction creates larger-scale trajectories. For example, the manner in which the 'conventional' instruments are used 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.
Meeting the Universe Halfway was commissioned by The House of Bedlam and first performed by them at the Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester) on May 2nd 2018.
Approximately 20 minutes