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The following notes were written by the composer on the occasion of the Canadian premiere in Ottawa in 1999.
I still hear Feldman's voice, urging: "you should write a string quartet", following one of our marvelous arguments at a time when I seriously questioned the notion of writing for "standard" instrumentation, an epitome, in my mind, of outdated conservatism (in reality it is an epitome of art being held hostage to economics, a dire situation indeed, that escaped my attention until I entered the United States in 1983). Events, however, changed the equation, if only in this particular case. Feldman's untimely death in 1987 prompted me to devote all my energy to complete this piece (which existed in sketches until then). I did this completion without a sense of interruption (a strange type of time-quake-ridden, yet undisturbed continuity doesn't seem to fail me). Thus the first version of XPÓHOI (much different from what you are about to hear tonight) was completed, served as my doctoral thesis piece, and was published. I reshaped it for its U.S. premiere in 1991 in Princeton and renotated it afterwards in 1992. The Modern Quartet is the pioneering group to give its Canadian premiere in its final shape tonight.
As a composer I feel it is my responsibility to reinstate listening to music. By listening I mean a deep, concentrated and very intense activity. One of the preconditions of this activity is the complete spiritual silence of the mind. I am looking forward to allow the musical object, however "obscure" or "faint", to subtly and gradually assert itself. As Xenakis writes: "music is not a language. A musical work is like a rock of complex formation with streaks and patterns engraved inside and out, which people can decipher a thousand different ways." I invite the listener to participate in a merger with phenomena. If my work results in pieces that are occasionally deemed "static" or "non-developmental" (by what standards? in comparison to Beethoven? La Monte Young? Erik Satie?!), that is partly because, when good sounds are present; I like to stay with them for a while. And because I find Jean Baudrillard's sentence (in his small volume "Simulations"): "Reality no longer has the time to assert itself as reality" so very true in our present socio-economic situation, I am more inclined to reinstate reality through sound than I am to breed simulacra.
Registral counterpoint was very much a concern in this work, for the sheer sonorities are played out in a tightrope-like vertical balance: the more transparent, lighter, high-end violin harmonics are counterbalanced by dark sonorities produced by the viola and the 'cello. This process creates gradation, transparency, distinction and a sense of range (vertical space).
There are, initially, only few elements at play, in continual permutation. Steady, recurring pitches gradually create a phenomenon I like to call "drone". "Drone" in this sense is not an uninterrupted physical continuum, but a musical one, which effects your hearing each entry as a continuation, not as a beginning; a continuation over and above any sense of interruption or "change". Apparent simplicity makes intriguing complexity truly observable. Upon closer listening, one discovers, that each of these initial configurations have their own interior pulsation. Even the subtlest change in sound configuration will result in a change in the temporal domain as well. Any engaged sonority generates its own temporality. In a long-held sonority orchestrated for a string quartet, such engagement may be called focus.
One example of the durational lengths that emerged in the course of the first section of the piece ("Chrónoi" - "times", in Greek: at the time of composing, Henri Corbin's essay "Cyclical Time in Mazdaism and Ismailism" and Henri-Charles Puech's "Gnosis and Time", both published in the Eranos Yearbooks series of Joseph Campbell entitled Man and Time, intrigued me): the entire section is divisible into two halves, in a ratio of 299:298 (counting uniform eight-notes).In terms of the overall proportions, the piece is in four sections (plus a transitory section after the second one); their temporal proportions (measured in uniform eight-note units) are 608:600:(transitory 208):310:429. (No mathematics was ever used to produce such results; only listening was).
Sections define themselves as a result of patterns. Greater section boundaries overlap: patterns interpenetrate. The vertical perspective previously created gradually allows the material to be stratified into occasionally superimposed, independently co-existing layers. "Completion", "continuation", "interruption", "addition", "paste", "split", "montage", etc. will all ultimately become aspects of the listener's sense of continuity. Moving forward doesn't always happen while one may experience that sensation, neither is there "stagnation" when things do not appear to move around much: the mind/ear is ceaselessly "tuning" itself. Undercurrents are superior to surface currents on the long run. Lux perpetua.
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