Program Notes

Descending The Starfield Symmetry | 16 IV 05


The passage of time has been a major concern of mine over the years: how we perceive similarity, or in fact, same-ness, over an extended period of analysis. My Guru, Khan Sahib La Monte Young, has famously stated that "tuning is a function of time" and this is true both for our understanding of an interval and for our perception of a single sustained pitch.

In 2014 I began developing a symmetrical version of my ongoing tuning theory The Four Pillars wherein, if condensed into a single octave, the interval classes would be repeated in the upper and lower tetrachord. When Scott Worthington commissioned this new work from me, I conceived of a situation wherein the double bass would provide the fundamental of a shimmering harmonic cloud in a pure statement of this symmetrical structure.

Over the summer of 2015, I had the great honor of helping to install and maintain Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House by La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Jung Hee Choi. I spent countless hours immersed in their dual drone worlds and the slow phase patterns of Choi's Tonecycle Base 30 Hz, 2:3:7 Sine Wave Version: the linear superposition of 77 sine wave frequencies set in ratios based on the harmonics 2, 3 and 7 imperceptibly ascending toward fixed frequencies and then descending toward the starting frequencies, infinitely revolving as in circles, in parallel and various rates of similar motion to create continuous slow phase shift with long beat cycles (2012) helped inspire me to ask Scott the question: How slow can you make a glissando?

This work, Descending The Starfield Symmetry, unfolds in two mathematically similar sections, during the first part, the performer acts as our root, the base for the building of a rich harmonic world as his sound is repeated back on itself and the sine waves build in premonition of the melodic second half. This second half presents the pitches of The Midwinter Starfield slowly and clearly before they imperceptibly slide down to meet the fundamental. These slides cause wild beat patterns to emerge in harmony with the sustained fundamental and the symmetrical sine waves, outlining new previously unheard relationships inherent to the tuning system.

The work is accompanied by Quadrilateral Starfield Symmetry T:O Base 7:172 for projection and dichroic filters. In this work I use relevant star signs to trace a free-form set of spirals which are set into motion, rotating at constant rates, mirrored quadrilaterally, and set to slowly cross quadrants. The pure blue of the filtered light causes the eye to lose focus, adding an ethereal halo around the constantly changing mandala of the projection. Each aspect of the timing and the number of spirals is related to the tuning of The Four Pillars, so, while the work does not actively react to the music, its movements are intimately related, creating a continuous whole in sound and light.


Written to accompany the world premiere of Descending The Starfield Symmetry in a setting of Quadrilateral Starfield Symmetry T:O Base 7:172* commissioned by Scott Worthington.