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"So-Called Laws of Nature" by David Lang at PASIC 2011
On their debut CD, the four members of So Percussion prove that they can really play. Not just play their instruments – which they do with expertise – but play with the genuine freshness and wonder of kids with their favorite toys.
The self-titled debut CD recording from Sō Percussion features the recording premieres of works by David Lang and Evan Ziporyn with a unique combination of homemade instruments and those more traditionally found in the classical, rock, and world music scenes.
About the Music
Evan Ziporyn on Melody Competition
Melody Competition (1999, revised 2000) is inspired by the west Balinese mebarung, a battle of the bands in the truest possible sense. Two (or more) giant bamboo gamelan jegog are put on stage together; one is allowed to play an extensive composition, as it nears its completion, the other group begins playing louder and faster in an attempt to drown out or throw off the first group. This can take longer than one might think, and the atmosphere can become quite charged. In west Bali there is much screaming and hysterical laughter, while in East Java the similar angklung caruk often results in fistfights and blood feuds. I first heard this in a very small room in Negara district in 1985, and my ears kept rattling for hours. When it was over, our host said serenely, “We hope you have enjoyed our traditional melody competition.” In this piece the term refers not just to the mebarung itself (which is real, not staged), but also to various other competitions – pitched instruments vs. non-pitched, wood vs. metal vs. skin, not to mention various formal devices traditionally used to pit melody against melody (otherwise known as “polyphony” or “counterpoint”). The performers are asked to use all their ensemble skill to move between states of togetherness and separation; as it turns out, the latter can require more virtuosity than the former.
David Lang on the so-called laws of nature
I went to college to study science. I was expected to become a doctor, or at the very least a medical researcher, and I spent much of my undergraduate years studying math and chemistry and physics, hanging out with future scientists, going to their parties, sharing their apartments, eavesdropping on their conversations. I remember a particularly heated discussion about a quote from Wittgenstein: “at the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanation of natural phenomena.” This quote rankled all us future scientists, as it implied that science can’t explain the universe but can only offer mere descriptions of things observed. Over the years it occurred to me that this could be rephrased as a musical problem. Because music is made of proportions and numbers and formulas and patterns I always wonder what these numbers actually mean. Do the numbers themselves generate a certain structure, creating the context and the meaning and the form, or are they just the incidental byproducts of other, deeper, more mysterious processes? My piece the so-called laws of nature tries to explore the “meaning” of various processes and formulas. The individual parts are virtually identical – the percussionists play identical patterns throughout, playing unison rhythms on subtly different instruments. Most of these instruments the performers are required to build themselves. Some of the patterns between the players are displaced in time, some are on instruments which have a kind of incoherence built into their sound. Does the music come out of the patterns, or in spite of them? I am not sure which, but I know that this piece is as close to becoming a scientist as I will ever get.
the so-called laws of nature – part 1 was premiered on the Bang on a Can Marathon at the 2001 Next Wave Festival at BAM. the complete the so-called laws of nature was premiered 19 October 2002 by So Percussion at the Miller Theater, New York. the so-called laws of nature was commissioned by and is dedicated to So Percussion.