Syrinx 21Unlike the narrative or concrete nature of literature and most visual art, most genres of western classical or art... Read More
Unlike the narrative or concrete nature of literature and most visual art, most genres of western classical or art music are inherently abstract. Abstract thought is manifest in art music as the aesthetic object, the score, is rendered in a codified language that can only be realized, or brought into full experiential existence, by gifted and highly-trained performing artists. While the music presented in most scores remains abstract, as composers and performers we nonetheless grapple with the relationship between and among aesthetics, non-representational work, and our imaginations. Following French philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s (1913 - 2005) lead back to Aristotle’s concept of fantasia, as performing artists we often relate to these scores vis-à-vis stolen stories, i.e. we see, dream or fantasize about events that are not directly accessible in our immediate surroundings, either spatially or temporally.
The foregoing process of imagining the non-present in relation to artistic production and performance practice always engenders a fascinating tension between such imagining and aesthetics. Aesthetics in this instance implicates both the very principles of beauty and artistic taste as well as the highly developed process of achieving same - namely the transmission of artistic concepts by great artists to future generations, e.g. concepts of core sound, line, variations of articulation, color, intensity, etc., and why such choices are made. It could be argued that the most compelling performances are those in which the tension between attempting to achieve an ambiance that correlates to, or is derived from, imagining the non-present, is conjoined with high aesthetic principles. As my great teacher (the inimitable flutist Albert Tipton) would say, “we know something is true in art by its ability to transmit truth to future generations.” While seemingly tautological, in Albert Tipton’s world such “truth” in aesthetic matters was synonymous with “good” and was both sine qua non and equivalent to beauty and artistic taste. This concept of imagining the non-present is also fundamental to the production process followed in my video-art works, as it serves as a conceptual bridge between abstract art music and video art production.
The soundtrack for the video-art piece Syrinx 21 utilizes the first movement of Vincent Persichetti’s Serenade No. 10 (1961), my composition Prelude to Syrinx 21 (2022), also scored for flute and harp, and my hybrid composition Syrinx 21 (2011), which was theoretically conceived as the 21st iteration of Claude Debussy’s famous Syrinx for solo flute. Consequently, we have a much more abstract and complex work, relative to the original. The composition Syrinx 21 is scored for 2 flutes, string quartet, female voice, and turntables. The score utilizes extensive quotations from earlier works, including my duo arrangement of Syrinx, while a haunting Japanese female voice drifts in and out of the work using sprechstimme. Structure is primarily achieved by: (i) spaced presentations of identifiable musical elements; and (ii) controlled variations of density. In the most extended example of this technique, turntables are deployed (loaded with prior recordings of the same music played by the string quartet in the final recording session) at specified in/out points. This results in two string-quartet formations that are variously involved in a love-song duet or their own battle royale.
The Syrinx 21 storyboard (video) presents a series of 5 quasi-narratives: (i) classical music pedagogy and aesthetics; (ii) multiple sets of duelists across place and time; (iii) young U.S. Naval Officers reflecting on their work while also pursuing love interests; (iv) Olympic Fencing and pedagogy; and, (v) the transformation and love affair of the fictive, future priestess Sonmi451 from Cloud Atlas – all in an exploration of another theme, namely the nexus among aesthetics, rigor, transformation, violence, desire, and the dichotomous nature of being.
In writing this piece I encountered a difficulty which I had heretofore avoided; namely whether to include autobiographical elements in 3 of the stories – elements which I only wanted to show via proxies. Eventually however, my life moments as a concert artist, US Navy Officer of the Line (combat officer) in the 7th Fleet, and later as a member of the USA Fencing Team, seemed inextricably linked to the work itself, as these glimpses are endemic to the afore-referenced nexus elements and corollary contemplation on being.