Melancolia: multi-tempo music in large form

Prior to the brief studies heard in the blog posts immediately below this one, I pursued a large-form work in multiple tempi, Melancolia (2015-2016). The earliest spark for Melancolia came from a detail within Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514), its magnificent magic square.magic-square

I wanted to respond musically in some way to this mystical and mystifying square, or more specifically its numbers and their arrangement. After much consideration as to what and how, I settled on this form: 20 minutes of total length, subdivided into 20 1-minute subsections, each subsection controlled by four different, simultaneous tempi, those tempi derived from various rows, columns, diagonals, and other combinations from Dürer’s square (all of which add up to 34). Each minute/section is further subdivided into six 10-second measures: it is this unit that defines the departures and returns of the four tempi. Audibly, every ten seconds you will hear a rhythmic unison somewhere in the texture, and every minute you will hear a new “orchestration” and new array of four tempi.

 

When we fit the largest number, 16, into a ten-second unit, we derive the fastest tempo: mm=96. We subtract 6 clicks for each descending number, so 15 brings us mm=90. 10 will bring us mm=60, 1 brings us mm=6. (You can fill in the rest.) The opening 1-minute section takes the four numbers of the top row of the magic square: 16:3:2:13 (or mm 96:18:12:78 beats per minute). The bass plays at 96 beats per minute, the prepared piano at 78 bpm, the strums of the piano strings twice per measure (12 per minute), and the white noise “explosions” are three times per measure (18 per minute).

 

Now you have an anchor, if one be sought, for listening to Melancolia. I do not feel I have given too much away. That was just the beginning of a long journey of discovery for me in the composing, and hopefully for you in the listening. Enjoy!

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