Program Notes

Apparitions of The Four Pillars in The Midwinter Starfield under The Astral 789 Duet

13 II 06 (Revised 14 IX 19, 15 II 01)


This version of Apparitions of The Four Pillars presents a major evolution in my work. In Apparitions Of The Four Pillars In The Midwinter Starfield Under The Astral 789 Duet, the drone truly acts as a static element, albeit with a life of its own, in the same way the Tambura is used in traditional Indian music. The full drone is heard continuing before and after the performance, and contains all of the pitches we will play. The static sine waves act as the fabric from which we pull our improvisations, in addition to two subliminal processes at work: one that outlines The Midwinter Starfield Theme and one that uses a technique I developed for my 2008 composition Shiver to continuously and subtly restructure the 7:8:9 Harmony throughout the performance near the highest audible range in a system reminiscent of the plucking of Tambura strings.

Whereas most of my early work with The Four Pillars had been concerned with density, as I began work on what would become this version in 2012, I knew I wanted to carefully consider every element of the performance to insure that everything was working in harmony to bring the work to the heart of where it needs to be, to nestle into the drone. This year we have removed what was once a key aspect of the work: delay structures. When we sat down to begin rehearsing with this ensemble (the first time we had done so where every single performer had already performed the work in some iteration) it became clear that delays, and layers, were not necessary. By removing our delay structures we are better able to focus on the immediate relationships we are creating and have greater control over the long-form trajectory of the composition.

In 2003 I began studying with La Monte Young, the grandfather of Minimalism and a driving force behind uncompromising music of long duration and exact tuning. His mentorship encouraged tendencies already present in my work, and when, in 2005, I began studying Rāga singing with him and Marian Zazeela, and later also with Jung Hee Choi, my life was changed forever. My interest in sine waves and purely generated electronic sound is long-standing, but through his example, I have come to develop my own artistic language rooted in the tradition he has pioneered.

Beginning in 1964, Young’s work on The Theatre of Eternal Music, and Dream House, revolved around a single, sprawling, composition he calls The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys. Nearly all of his subsequent output could be considered a subset of this larger work. It was also around this time that he set out perhaps his most famous tenet: “Tuning is a function of time. Since tuning an interval establishes the relationship of two frequencies in time, the degree of precision is proportional to the duration of the analysis.” This example led me to create The Four Pillars as a guiding set of instructions for my own compositions. The Four Pillars continues to develop its own life, the more we perform the work, and works of its family, the more we learn about its mysteries and can create a higher and higher codification of what can be developed and presented using these intervals. By sustaining the tones for long periods of time, we are better able to experience the complex feeling created through even the most simple of intervallic relationships.

The visionary example set by Young has been instrumental to my development as a composer. I work with a small number of musicians who have been performing my work for years and whose judgment I absolutely trust. They improvise within the guidelines I set up, giving each performance its own character and feeling dependent on the time and place of performance.

This performance is dedicated to my guru, Khan Sahib La Monte Young, and is accompanied by a video sculpture created by my long-time collaborator Oscar H Scott that takes as its inspiration the Aurora Borealis, and a special Tibetan incense created by The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rimpoche, for the consecration of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in the Colorado mountains. Many years ago, I would ascend the beautiful Trail Ridge Road in these mountains, stand out in the cold and peer up at the great black sky, and the stars shimmering in the night air.


Written and revised to accompany performances of Apparitions of The Four Pillars in The Midwinter Starfield under The Astral 789 Duet at the Avant Music Festival