A listener’s experience of a musical work can be understood as a series of moments, the beginning and end of each moment fusing into one’s memory of previous music and anticipation of events to come. The context of a moment is defined by our past experiences and memory, but self-similar material and extended durations can temporally disorientate us. Furthermore, repeating material separated by time can seem dislocated from its original, much as continuously developing music can blend into a single moment.
The task of writing for a full orchestra was initially an extremely challenging prospect. Not only was it my first attempt at orchestrating an original composition, but I often use basic homophonic building blocks which I didn’t believe would work successfully in this project. Therefore, I began to seek out composers with similar temporal and aesthetic interests who have successfully written for orchestra. Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra (2020) uses the orchestra as a shadow for a solo amplified percussionist, allowing the listener to wander freely between the foreground and background. Bryn Harrison’s Shifting Light (2006) leads the listener into a false sense of temporal certainty, the different instrumental voices continuously swelling and shifting at separate rates. The orchestral music of Morton Feldman also had a profound effect on me during this project. In Coptic Light (1977), Feldman uses extended duration as a way of alienating developed material from its source. In For Samuel Beckett (1987), the orchestra is divided into small territories playing contrasting melodic material, but all functioning within the same cyclical ecosystem. After researching music with similar temporal and aesthetic goals, I decided to aim towards a layered and static texture, giving the listener space to wander through the different timbral surfaces at their own pace.
The factor in achieving this aesthetic goal was in my dealing with time. Therefore, I decided to start the compositional process by mapping out the duration of the piece, beginning with the macrostructure and progressing inward [MG1] into the smaller details of the piece like tempo and harmonic changes. From here, I calculated the number of bar numbers needed at an average tempo and grouped instrumental voices together in pairs. For the pitch and rhythmic material, I used a maximally diverse system of combinations and permutations, and each group was assigned a separate combinatorial set which spanned the entire length of the piece, progressing at different rates.
At this point, every instrument had a note in every bar. Recently, I have become increasingly interested in the dichotomy between process and intuitive composition, reflecting on when the composer might intervene in a process and what this means for the work. The piece was texturally dense and, although the work may have been easy to become temporally disorientated, I felt that there was too much sonic information to invite the listener to explore the different textural layers at their own pace. Consequently, I began a process of erasure, systematically deleting material in all voices but maintaining the maximal diversity of the overall combinatorial system. The inspiration for my second intervention was concerned with temporality and came when reading an article by Jürg Frey called And on it went from 2004. He states,
“A monochrome sound world will not always resonate in the listener as a monochrome experience. It may easily be that, at the end of a performance of static music that has remained motionless, the listener is in himself no longer where he started out – just as, conversely, directed, mobile music that lays a path need not always take the listener along on a journey.” 
After reflecting on Frey’s writings, I decided to explore the boundaries between a static and active aesthetic, using metric manipulation as a way of engaging the listener with their inner temporal narrative. I imposed a series of metric changes that swell throughout the piece. A major benefit of this was to compensate for any disorientating qualities lost in the erasure process and the thinning of texture.
A reoccurring feature of John Cage’s music that has interested me is the cohesion between the microstructure and macrostructure. This is especially important when writing static music, as the listener often has greater freedom to wander between the music’s fine details and the unified whole. I decided to take the temporal disorientation a step further by, at systematic points in the music, allow instrumental pairs to play ametrically, freely bouncing off one another in a bell-like fashion. This not only reinforced the distorted pulsating of the composition but encouraged the listener to begin to link their experience of the piece together between different levels of consciousness.
Unfortunately, the scheduled orchestral workshop was cancelled due to the current coronavirus situation. However, the inability to hear the music live has presented me with the challenge of refining the piece by ear. The American musicologist Lawrence Kramer suggests in his book The Thought of Music that we should take the score “as part of the full scored composition rather than a detached template.” Not experiencing the piece live during this final process has forced me to both scrutinise the effectiveness of temporal and aesthetic goals I set out to achieve and reflect on how the score visually expresses these goals to the performer. From this process, I would like to further explore the link between textural layers and the fluctuation in a listener’s consciousness over time. Although I feel that the combinatorial process has been lost in the orchestral setting, it has allowed me to see how the process operates in a completely different setting than what I am used to.
Cambreling, Sylvian, ‘Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett’ (Austria: Klangforum Wien, 1999)
Frey, Jürg, ‘And on It Went’, Edition Wandelweiser, 2004, p. 1
Harrison, Bryn, ‘Shifting Light’, London Sinfonietta, 2006
Kramer, Lawrence, The Thought of Music, 1st edn (California: University of California Press, 2016)
Tilson Thomas, Michael, ‘Morton Feldman: Coptic Light’ (USA: Argo Records, 1995)
Weaver, Stephanie, ‘Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra’ (USA: University of California Television, 2020)
 Stephanie Weaver, ‘Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra’ (USA: University of California Television, 2020).
 Bryn Harrison, ‘Shifting Light’, London Sinfonietta, 2006.
 Michael Tilson Thomas, ‘Morton Feldman: Coptic Light’ (USA: Argo Records, 1995).
 Sylvian Cambreling, ‘Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett’ (Austria: Klangforum Wien, 1999).
 Jürg Frey, ‘And on It Went’, Edition Wandelweiser, 2004, p. 1.
 Lawrence Kramer, The Thought of Music, 1st edn (California: University of California Press, 2016).