Space and Silence

 

Space and Silence was my attempt at reconciling music and silence. Inspired by the work of Morton Feldman, Kisho Kurokawa, and John Cage, it is a composition written for solo vibraphone that lasts an indeterminate amount of time. The performer is instructed to depress the pedal, never raising it until the end of the work, and to make sure that the sound of each note decays before moving on to the next measure. No indication is given for how long a measure is, how long a measure of rests must be, or at what point one is to go on to the next measure; only that every produced sound must fully decay before moving on. Between every sound that is marked, there is space notated though it is not quantified; only that some spaces ought to be twice as long.

I fell in love with Feldman’s Piano for Four Hands (1958) many years ago and it resonated with me during the later parts of this Silence unit. His delicate, pointillist texture treats space in a fantastic way though he never fully lets your ear enjoy the decay of the piano into silence. Feldman creates a landscape with very few musical elements and a great deal of space between them. It was this pointillism that I embraced when writing my composition.

After being exposed to his work in class, I explored Kisho Kurokawa’s work and found his very Buddhist approach to architecture very fascinating and different. Though I know a bit about Buddhism, I decided to look further and discovered that the very inner emptiness of oneself that is such a fundamental tenet of the faith is quite akin to the nothingness that is “under” all of the musical notes that musicians play. Kurokawa’s atrium to the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (1988-89) illustrates this very well by avoiding a decorative feature in the center point of a circle and instead draws attention to the nothingness that is present. To pursue this emptiness, I thought along the lines of expanding or “stretching” a work of music to make explicit the nothingness that was under the musical notes the entire time. Now the focus is on that and less on the notes that are played.

Lastly, I was inspired to first pursue space and silence in a context where space is not normally expected by John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing (1950), which is part of his book Silence: Letters and Writings (1939-1961). I admit that I was hugely skeptical of this notion at first. It seemed contrived and unnatural to me to put space in a location where it was neither appropriate nor warranted. However, after spending time digesting this and the other works mentioned, I began to wonder how it would be to incorporate this space into musical terms. Cage keeps syntactical structure throughout, though he has meticulously dictated how a speaker is to approach the text. Aural silence is linked to not only punctuation, as one would normally expect, but to spatial relationships between the words. The distance between phrases and words is a key element of this lecture. Though my work is far shorter, I tried to emulate Cage by varying the size of the “spaces” in my work while keeping to musical structures.

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