Submitted as the primary work in my Graduating Folio from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University.
The original premiere was planned for September 2021, to be located in the forecourt of the School's Performing Arts Centre. Due to Covid-19 lockdowns in Victoria, this proved impossible; the premiere was ultimately performed in my own backyard in Naarm's Inner-North suburbs.
INDICATIVE EXCERPTS: 0:50-2:10; 3:45-4:55; 7:00-10:19 (end)
FORMAT: solo extended performance-art installation
DURATION: variable (the premiere performance lasted 16+ hours; the edited version lasts ~20 mins)
SCORE: live-scored on large canvas
PERSONNEL: solo performance artist
ORCHESTRATION: environmental sound, pre-recorded concert audio, live electronics
KEY COMPOSITIONAL TECHNIQUES:
- live-scoring (semi-improvised)
- blended notation styles & formats
- medium-scale installation (performance space: approx. 2x3m)
- live electronics & feedback loop
- live (automated) manipulation of recorded & ambient/environmental audio
Logical Conclusions weaves competing strands of music theory, music history and musical content into a marathon sixteen-hour-long work of solo performance art. Unfolding gradually over more than twenty movements, the work takes place in physical, visual and aural space. Each reflects the others; as the complexity of the musical fragments intensifies, so too does the density of the stark black notation filling staves on a large canvas, as well as the ambient audio texture. Logical Conclusions is an exploratory work which questions how far notational complexity can develop before losing its ability to compel and intrigue. The work simultaneously celebrates compositional achievement while also challenging the tendency within art-music to trend towards the wholly academic, the wholly absolutist, the wholly inaccessible to all but those with wholly elite musical training. Recorded fragments of canonical masterpieces are eroded by and subsumed into an undulating feedback loop, which is punctuated sporadically by birdcall, paintbrush strokes, and interjections from housemates and ringtones. Ultimately, when the canvas is white washed in one pseudo-minimalist fell swoop, the question remains: is the logical conclusion to this ascending spiral of nuance and detail inexorable, or are there alternative musical pathways? The denouement, populated only by incidental sound and affable conversation, seems to establish some fledgling elements of a nascent sonic practice – one grounded firmly in the mundane, the archetypically “noisy”, and most significantly, in the experiential.
Timecodes for the above performance:
00:05 - Movement 0: Blank Canvas
01:00 - Movement 1: Dots on Lines
01:11 - Movement 2: Solo
01:41 - Movement 3: Marching Bass
02:06 - Movement 4: Arpeggio
02:26 - Movement 5: Sustain
03:01 - Movement 6: Grace Notes
03:21 - Movement 7: Pomp and Cannon-Fire
03:47 - Movement 8: Solo (Reprise)
04:17 - Movement 9: Bars of Rest
05:17 - Movement 10: Glissando
06:07 - Movement 11: Across Two Staves
06:37 - Movement 12: Across Four Clefs
06:55 - Movement 13: Beyond the Stave
07:26 - Movement 14: The Hemi-Semi-Demi-Semi-Hemi-Demi-Demi Quaver
07:46 - Movement 15: A Case of Clusters
07:59 - Movement 16: New Complexity
08:28 - Movement 17: Interpretation
08:48 - Movement 18: Tutti
09:20 - Comic Interlude
09:26 - Movement 19: Denouement
09:57 - Performance Notes
10:13 - Performance Credits
Disclaimer: I own none of the excerpts from other composers' recorded works; please see the "Performance Credits"(10:13) or contact me for more information.
For an artform steeped in the transient and invisible, Western Classical music has a peculiarly immutable dependence on notation. Logical Conclusions surveys the staved score’s role in canonical art-music, problematising both the fixity of notation and the correlations often drawn between a score’s complexity and its conceptual or artistic merit. Throughout the extended performance-art installation, a large canvas bears witness to a gruelling live-scoring process. The work’s 21 discrete movements span a trajectory of increasing musical codification. As the canvas becomes progressively denser, so too does the sonic texture; live electronics combine both incidental environmental noise and recordings of the works referenced by each movement. This audio is fed back into the performance space, à la I Am Sitting In A Room (Alvin Lucier, 1969), creating a complex aural fabric which mimics the visual articulation of increasing notational density. Intermittently, fragments from earlier movements collide dissonantly with the current soundscape. These juxtapositions are eventually homogenised by the disjointed audio introduced during movements referencing the atonal and New-Complexity oeuvres, therein interrogating the function of music so esoteric that its nuances are rendered impenetrable to all but the most highly-trained listeners. The work’s penultimate “black” movement sees a passage from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise (1963-1967) painted across the canvas in the form of large, unyielding circular forms. These “black holes” then give way to an entirely black void-canvas in Movement 18 (Tutti), realised by pouring paint directly onto the canvas to fill in any remaining white-space. At this point, the audio track comprises mostly white-noise – an equal probabilistic distribution of all frequencies in the audible spectrum. No sonic or visual articulations are now discernible.
A very real element of performance is its demanding physicality; as the notation intensifies, so too do the gestures required of the performer. The Comic Interlude is both a moment of playful respite – take a moment; find the powder-room; go and procure a glass of bubbles! – but also speaks to the sheer relief on the part of the performer. Having been either standing or squatting for nearly sixteen consecutive hours to avoid inadvertent paint-smears, the performer now rolls into the wet surface; they can afford to be blasé about potential smudges, since the canvas could hardly get more black. Consider the musical counterpart of such a gesture: would it be adding another pitch to white noise, or to a cluster-tone? What about subdividing the beat so fractionally that no performer could ever hope to play it accuracy at tempo? And what then does ‘accuracy’ even entail? The Comic Interlude is superficially an instance of humour and pause, yet its flippant rump-wagging in the face of the score belies a more profound challenge to practices of adding infinitely nuanced detail at the stage where no such subtlety can effect identifiable change.
The question naturally arising at this point is: where to from here? When we reach the point of notation so complex that it constitutes only an indecipherable mass of dots and lines and arcane symbols, how do we progress? Do we continue trying to glean minutiae within the dense population, or is it time for a paradigm shift, an upheaval? The Minimalists proffered one solution: go back to the beginning. Paint the canvas white, start over with some day-long chords, or with gradual elaborations on skeletal motifs. This certainly seems like a Logical Conclusion…but its adjuvant corollary is that we are only clearing the slate for another inexorable trend towards the same place of notational complexity from whence we just escaped. Sure, we can paint the canvas white – but it’s still flecked with bits of black and grey that peer out from behind its gauzy rebirth. I could even repeat the whole installation again, but I’ll be doing it in clothes that are already besmirched by permanent smears and stains. We can’t forget what’s come before, and why would we want to? There’s plenty of brilliant music located within the historical compositional trajectory. Yet the problem of future progression remains involute. I don’t have a complete solution – anyone who tells you that they do probably hasn’t thought enough about it. But here, sitting to the gradual build-up of environmental sounds as the canvas lies pied and marled beneath the dappled light of my backyard gum-trees, the answer seems oriented more in the direction of my accumulating found-sound than any trite dots and lines I could arrange symmetrically five-fold along a piece of paper. Hey! That magpie just relieved herself on my canvas. How might I play that? Could I ask her to do it in the shape of a minim on F#?
Notation, it seems, can only get us so far.
Click here to download the information on this page in PDF format.
Click here to download a version of the Max MSP patch used to manipulate and layer the live audio - please note that the filepaths will need to be changed to match your own system settings for the patch to be functional.
Coming soon: a patch with presentation mode!