Anyone who has ever had to work towards a looming deadline will appreciate (or resent) the passage of time. For composers, time is of course the canvas on which they write — and if you’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to a composer working on a commission, you’re probably familiar with time-related statements like “I need to write another five minutes of music,” or “My piece is longer than what they asked for,” or even just plain old “Oh God, I need more time!” For us listeners, pacing and duration are key ingredients in how a piece of music impacts us emotionally: the 17-second brevity of Schoenberg’s Galgenlied from Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 instantly conjures up images both horrific and humorous; whereas an hour+ long performance of Terry Riley’s In C can lull us into a trance-like state where an entire evening can slip by unnoticed.
Next week I’ll be giving the Vancouver premiere of a piece that definitely makes its home on the large-scale end of the time spectrum. On Wednesday, March 9th, 2016, Redshift Music Society and Little Chamber Music Series That Could will present Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 for flute and MaxMSP by Moncton-based composer André Cormier. There are few artists I know who play with the concept of time like Cormier: Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is part of a series of pieces that gradually reveal themselves to the listener over the space of 90 minutes. One by one, notes are played by the flutist, which are recorded and looped back every six minutes through a multi-channel speaker installation. Ever so slowly, the piece becomes layered through the speaker playback: it becomes denser, richer, and more elaborate, until the final six minutes reveal the “complete” piece, with swirling flute lines and Tibetan finger cymbals.
In particular, the opening of Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is worth mentioning: essentially a blank canvas for sound, the piece begins with a full six minutes of silence. Some people have given me double-takes when I tell them this, but this extended silence serves an important role: the first two minutes is spent wondering what the hell is going on; after four minutes, your inner clock begins slowing down; and by six minutes, you’ve truly entered a deeper listening state, making the first utterance of the flute — a pianissimo F# — seem like a shattering intrusion. It’s a very special listening experience, the likes of which is almost impossible to achieve in our 21st century “Age of Instant Information”. Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is unquestionably challenging — and I’m the first person to say that it’s quite possibly not a piece for everybody. But after premiering this piece in New Brunswick back in 2013, I know that this piece can have a very powerful effect on those who are willing to be openminded to truly new listening experiences.
Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 takes place this Wednesday, March 9th, at 8pm at Celebration Hall at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery (39th off Fraser St.). This event is FREE. There will also be a free artist chat at the Canadian Music Centre‘s BC Region (837 Davie Street) on Monday, March 7th at 4:30pm. Both André Cormier and myself will be there to talk more about the piece!
And just to give you a tiny, 21st century “Age of Instant Information” taste of what to expect, here is an excerpt from the final six minutes of Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4: