Below are the program notes for limb, one of my most recent works for contrabass flute (doubling piccolo) and percussion. I wrote limb for the A/B Duo who will perform it at Spectrum in New York City this Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 7pm.
Sol LeWitt's Scribble Wall Drawing series served as a primary source of ideas for limb. These massive drawings (many in the 8' x 8' range and one as long as 61') are comprised of hyper-dense bands of pencil gestures that, depending upon the particular work, coalesce into formations akin to the paintings of Rothko (horizontal) and Barnett Newman (vertical).
LeWitt's method of developing a visual concept and its associated process, and then delegating the execution of the process to others, offers interesting parallels to the composer/performer relationship. Robert Storr, a member of one of the teams that created the drawings, described the process as follows:
"...far from being a matter of mechanically executing a fixed schema, LeWitt's delegation of labor in the production of his work enlists others in a, for the most part, aleatory and highly sensual activity that was as much at the heart of his own engagement with the result as the generative idea behind each project."
This notion of the sensuality of gesture has long been important in my music, and it is present throughout limb. From the gently pulsating tremolo figures in the opening, to the middle section's gong swells, to the final section's chords tethered together via long tones in the crotales, these gestures, simple as they may be, are intended to elicit a palpable intimacy and sensuality.
Maximizing this effect often depends upon another critical compositional parameter: proportion. In executing LeWitt's drawings, the teams temporarily extend horizontal or vertical strands of thread (depending on the orientation of the drawing) across the paper in order to attain a detailed sense of spatial proportion. LeWitt dictates the gradations of pencil tone and density for each section of paper using a scale from 1-6 (1 being essentially white paper and 6 being the darkest and most gesturally dominated).
It is important to note that I did not attempt to create a perfect linear/sonic parallel to LeWitt's process. There was no 1-6 sonic density scale. I do, however, obsess over temporal proportions at both the local and global levels. The composer must attain a heightened awareness of swaths of time--understanding how each moment exerts influence upon the next, how long a particular texture can extend,and how specific gestures leave short and long term residue in the memory. This nexus of gesture and proportion provides an inroad between my linear/sonic wold and the spatial/visual of LeWitt.