chronology horizons

(2022)

for piano

26-30 minutes

For as long as I can remember, one of my compositional ambitions has been to write a piece that successfully transcends linear exposition. Such a work, I thought, might operate through a non-local logic, perhaps applied both holographically and holistically, linking up distant parts of the piece into stepped levels of meaning that require an audition of the whole musical architecture to fully decode. I have already developed and utilised methodologies that supply a degree of deprovincialised coherence, of self-similarity, not just in terms of the unfolding of the music but also in the relationships between the various structural strata. In the case of my ‘labyrinth’ forms, this has taken the form of a splintering of the linear thrust that nonetheless retains the implicit teleology of each individual segment, but orders them according to a higher-level logic that to some extent subverts their linkage. So far, though, I have always bowed to the general axiom that, to be meaningful, a piece of music must have a beginning, middle, and end–in that order, providing a sense of journey.

I have always been suspicious of this assumption. Music operates through memory; there is no particular reason why it should rely on contiguity for effectiveness. We can perfectly well hold sonic objects in our heads and identify correspondences within musical landscapes, and even, like the viewer of a sculpture, recognise perspectival shifts. There is nothing psychologically amiss in a music that lacks local continuity.

Even so, there would be little point exploring such a fractured architecture unless it were expressive of, even mandated by, a musical concept. In my reading I had more than once come across the notion of a chronology horizon in the context of time machines. While I am no expert it has always seemed to me that the very notion of time machines involves contradictions that make them not just implausible but undefined–going back in time inescapably requires the past to be capable of multiplicity, which is nonsensical. So chronology horizons, which are regions of spacetime where, as I understand it, adjacent forward and backward flows of time produce eddies where material gets caught in loops, are almost certainly fictitious.

This realisation did not inhibit me from trying to imagine what such behaviours might look like in the metaphorically abstract form of music. I eventually settled on the juxtaposition of three different kinds of material: (1) completely without repetition; (2) inexact repetition that re-capitulates shapes but not content; and (3) exact, literal, repetition. I then assembled a structure that always necessitated a buffer of (2) between statements of (1) and (3). And yes, the sections (2) are the chronology horizons of the piece’s title.

One of my own adages is that a music that is completely without internal relations would be emotionally blank, without meaning; in information theory terms such a work would have high entropy because its content would be completely interchangeable without affecting the reception. (A colleague once described a Piano Concerto of high-level exclusionist modernism that he had to perform as being effectively “Dadaist” in its high-entropy inexpressiveness). It’s too early for me to be able to declare that I have avoided this trap in chronology horizons; I hope that the internal symmetries and resemblances provide a substitute for narrative consistency.

The piece is too new to have had a public performance. We have created a MIDI mock-up that appears below as a tryout of the structural and textural unfolding of the music. It is not intended to be approached as a performance so much as an approximation. I think of the MIDI audio as the ‘self-driving-car’ version.

The score can be downloaded here.