+ Desmond Clarke - Hommage á Morton Feldman
Hommage á Morton Feldman is an exploration of space, both musical and conceptual. The piece was directly inspired by the ‘family portrait’ image of the solar system taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, which shows the planetary solar system, excluding Mars and Mercury, from a perspective six billion kilometres (5.5 light-hours) from the sun. The planets are shown as scattered points of light, dwarfed by the spaces they inhabit. The most well known interpretation of the image is the great scientific educator Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, in which he focuses on the human ramifications of seeing our world in such an insignificant light – environmentalism, responsibility to ourselves and to our planet. However, my personal response to the image is not to hunt out the pin-points of light but to explore the vast darkness separating them, Hommage á Morton Feldman is the end point of this exploration.
The title comes from the shared sense, between this work and that of Feldman, of an obvious, yet indistinct musical volume within which seemingly arbitrary, vastly extended events transpire. These events serve to define an imaginary resonant space while simultaneously hinting at forms and systems almost infinitely larger than the scale of the music itself. Feldman makes use of perceptually extreme time-scales to fully explore a sonic domain – here the music is relatively brief, an almost unintelligible fragment of another world, presented as a clear juxtaposition from the overt chaos of terrestrial existence.
An example of this obscured systematisation is the process of the generation of tempos used in the metered sections. They are derived from the orbital velocities of objects in the belt of the solar system Voyager 1 was (and still is) travelling through. These velocities have values of 2.98 - 6.81 km/s and so can be translated into tempos of 30 - 68 beats per minute. With the exception of Uranus and Neptune, the two outermost planets, the objects used are Kuiper Belt Objects, irregular bodies comprised of rock and ice at the edge of the mapped solar system, typically with an orbital period of 200 - 700 years. While there are many dozens (if not thousands) of such objects, most of them are in orbital resonance with Neptune (they complete a whole number of orbits for every one of Neptune’s) and thus there are a distinct set of average velocities, of which I have taken a representative sample. This data, which directly represents relationships apparent in the physical world, is almost completely hidden from the audience’s perception, and instead contributes towards a feeling of fragmented and ultimately un-knowable organic structure.
Hommage á Morton Feldman was performed in March 2009 by the Chimera Ensemble, conducted by Jonathan Brigg
Above image: the ‘pale blue dot’ image of earth, which comprises less than a thousandth of the entire ‘family portrait’ mosaic by area, and an almost infinitesimal amount by volume