lethologica

ensemble string quartet and accordion
duration ~7:00
listen 11/10/2007 performance (on bandcamp)
score PDF, 202KB
performance history 11​/​10​/​2007 by ASM at the Yippie Museum Cafe (Feeling Conservative?);
03/13/2008 by ASM at Issue Project Room (Playing Some Music)
date completed 03/04/2008
series unblocking
era ASM

background

In 2007, I started to experience (what would be a very long period of) writer’s block. I would try to write pure music, but it would fail to gain any momentum, because there was no emotional ballast, no narrative. I needed something, even just a word to center my thoughts on. Without that—an idea, a title, a description—I just produced sketch after brief sketch.

I agreed to write a piece for ASM’s late 2007 world premieres show without realizing just how hard it would be. Months went by, and I wasn’t terribly worried about my lack of progress, because I thought an impending deadline would spur my creativity. But it didn’t work. I had nothing. When no sketch produced the spark I needed, I turned to the dictionary to describe my condition, and “lethologica” was born.

I realize that this is just a psychological crutch, that using that word is no more meaningful than just making something up, but it’s what I needed. In a way, I guess you could describe the resulting disjointed piece as a search for the right state of mind for the music, but... that’s probably being generous.

What it definitely did do was allow me to give myself a pass on writing The Next Major Work. Instead, I let myself go with the impulse to not self-edit so much in the early stages – but more importantly, to not languish in the early stages and instead move forward with what I had. Maybe I was only adept at writing short songs, and maybe that was OK for this.

“Lethologica” is me struggling to organize music that’s just out of my reach. More precisely: unable to discern the idea around which the music was shaping, I gave up on having an idea (hence the title, which is the word for being unable to find a word) and thought, “well, shit, why not write a rock song if I want to? Screw it.” So I wrote the beginning. And that sucked, so I threw that out. So then I wrote the ending. Then I was late, so I wrote a new beginning. Then I realized that there was not a lot they had in common, so I started working on a bridge, and I got two more endings. Eventually, it all just kind of came together like, I dunno, a hairball of tiny themes that starts out as a Piazzolla scribble and ends as a mid-period Radiohead reject. Something happens in the middle. [Apologies to the players for the ending, I got lost inside the piano.] The punchline is that when the dust settled, I realized the title was also an anagram for “ethological” and “theological” which both describe themes I typically write around. I am a HUGE nerd.

- ASM program notes, 11/10/2007

The 2007 performance was by Hubert Chen, Andie Springer, Leanne Darling, Pat Muchmore, and Maria Sonevytsky; the 2008 performance was by Hubert Chen, Philippa Thomson, Jess Pavone, Pat Muchmore, and Kamala Sankaram. Most of those people will still talk to me, so it can’t have been a disaster.

My hope for the ending is that it would regenerate, getting progressively louder, until it was really, really, really loud. Acoustic instruments can only get so loud, so if this piece were ever performed again, I would probably opt to amplify everything. Volume notwithstanding, the ending of the piece is interesting in that it repeats the same progression three times (G6, E add 2, C add #11, A add #11) – but each chord transitions to the next with an ascending line that rotates through the violins and accordion (violin 1, then violin 2, then accordion, then violin 1, etc). This means that each of those instruments plays the melody connecting each two-chord sequence once; so it sounds familiar as it progresses, but not the same.

It’s one of my stranger pieces (so far); it has longer time signatures (like 4/2 and 6/2), lots of superimposed chords and stacked thirds (charitably called “added ninths” and “suspended chords”), and an almost-out interlude that functions loosely as a bridge. Harmonically, the piece is an exercise in chromatic mediants from beginning (modulating from C# minor to E minor and back) to end (G to E to C to A), which tends to add to the never-quite-resolving feel.