Out To The Stars, Into The Heart: Spatial Movement in Recent and Earlier Music

Apart from a connect-the-dots type apparent motion gleaned by the listeners from the responses of the relatively discrete groups and point-sources described in Antiphonal Space, another method of creating spatial perspective in music is to depict continuous motion within a narrative or programmatic context.

For example, among the many imaginative and experimental instrumentals by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber in the late-17th century is the sonata for 6 players, known as the Peasant’s Church Procession: far in the distance, in simple call-and-response unison, we hear a church hymn very gradually increasing in volume as a procession of villagers gets nearer and nearer. It passes us by, and, just as gradually, we hear the tune fade into the distance. Without pause, we are taken inside the church where the unison tune is blended with the harmonies of the organ. In Biber’s Battalia (Battle, 1673), in a section called “Das liederliche Schwärmen der Musquetier”, 8 drunken musketeers are depicted by instruments as shouting completely different songs while staggering about in a dissonant, uncoordinated revelry.

The piano work Avance/Retrait by the early-19th century American experimenter Anthony Philip Heinrich is designed to be played backwards once the piece has been played normally, like troops retreating from their initial advance. A champion of the American spirit and an admirer of Native American life, he was also a friend of naturalist James Audubon (Heinrich is buried in the Audubon family grave in upper Manhattan) and wrote many portraits of wild life including The Ornithological Combat of Kings (Grand Symphony) or the Condor of the Andes and the Eagle of the Cordilleras depicting the great birds in flight.

In his famous orchestral tone poem Three Places in New England, Charles Ives recreated a memory of a holiday parade in which his bandmaster father arranged to have different bands playing different tunes cross each other’s paths midtown, a spatial event which generated glorious cacophony.

In Toru Takemitsu‘s elegant and timbre-rich In An Autumn Garden (1973, 1979), 29 performers in 4 groups (“tree spirits”) exchange ancient gagaku-like music for walking about in a Japanese garden. Similarly, Toshi Ichiyanagi‘s violin concerto Junkansuru fukei (Circulating Scenery) describes the same kind of garden walk.

Robert Ashley‘s operas Perfect Lives and Celestial Excursions (2002), and his “String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies” deal with extremely large and extremely small worlds in motion. In his ensemble work in memoriam Crazy Horse (symphony), the circular graph score, with various symbols on its 64 radii, is played by 5 or more groups of 4 or more instruments per group, similar to the strategies of a raiding party defending its territory against invaders. Ashley’s classic a capella choral piece “She Was A Visitor” from the opera That Morning Thing (1967), describes how “rumor” is spread: one chanter repeats the phrase “She was a visitor” and each leader of a chorus-group selects phonemes from that line and passes it around. The amassed sound, a moving surface of little disturbances, begins to resemble airplanes, cars, trains and perhaps the subatomic world. In certain performances of the opera, the audience was also asked to participate in the same process.

From Out To The Stars, Into The Heart: Spatial Movement in Recent and Earlier Music
By “Blue” Gene Tyranny
© 2003 NewMusicBox

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