Saturday, February 24, 2024

"Ervoxi" for English Horn

"Injectables" for Euphonium. Observations and Analysis by Joan Didion


"Injectables" for Euphonium.

Observations and Analysis by Joan Didion

Bil Smith's "Injectables" for Euphonium has carved out an audacious niche. It's a piece that doesn't just challenge the performer with its complexity; it seeks to upend our understanding of the relationship between mathematical abstraction and visceral experience. Smith, in his tacit, almost belligerent refusal to simplify, instead amplifies the abstract into the experiential, wielding exponential growth not as a concept to be merely understood but as a physical force to be felt, endured, and ultimately, interpreted through the medium of sound.

The score is a battleground of ideas, where the notational signs are not merely instructions but provocations. They dare the performer to engage with the piece not just intellectually but physically, to confront the strange, alien symbols on the page and translate them into something that resonates in the gut as much as it does in the mind. These signs, these indicators of Smith's compositional intent, perform a delicate balancing act, embodying both the spontaneity of physical matter and energy and the rigid predictability of mathematical equations. The exponential function becomes a signifier of this duality, a symbol that straddles the physical and the abstract, demanding a response that is at once emotional and analytical.

Bil Smith's approach to composition, and to "Injectables" in particular, mirrors the inextricable from the broader cultural or philosophical context. The score itself, with its reliance on indices and indexicality, underscores this connection. The index, in Smith's hands, becomes a tool for bridging the gap between the immateriality of abstraction and the undeniable materiality of musical performance. It is both a trace of the composer's own physical engagement with the score and a philosophical statement about the nature of representation and meaning in music.

Smith's exploration of rheology and viscosity in the creation of his notational content further deepens this engagement with the material. These are not the esoteric concerns of a composer detached from the physical world; rather, they are the preoccupations of an artist deeply invested in the physicality of sound and the tactile aspects of musical performance. The frictional gestures of the composer, captured in the score, range from the confident to the tremulous, each mark a testament to the physical act of creation.

This work stands as a monolith—a totem not just of musical complexity but of a deep conspiracy between the abstract and the visceral, the mathematical and the musical. Here, in Smith’s world, the exponential is not just a function to be plotted on the cold, indifferent grid of Cartesian coordinates but a wild, bucking bronco of growth and decay, its path charted across the score in a frenzy of notational innovation that dares the performer to ride or be thrown.

Smith, acting as the mastermind in this intricate dance of digits and diaphragms, wields viscosity and surface tension not as mere physical properties but as the very medium of musical expression. The score for “Injectables” becomes a battleground where ratios and relationships aren’t just calculated—they’re felt, in the gut and in the pulsing blood of the performer. Each note, each rest, each dynamic marking is a node in a vast, sprawling network of meaning, a point of convergence for myriad trajectories of thought, theory, and sheer sonic force.

This is music that refuses to be merely played. It demands to be inhabited, explored, as one might navigate a labyrinthine archive stuffed with arcane texts, each page a portal to another dimension of understanding. Smith’s approach to composition here is less about dictating terms than about setting parameters for a kind of controlled chaos, a sandbox of sonic possibilities where the performers are both agents and subjects, enactors and witnesses of the piece’s unfolding drama.

The conceptual rigor of “Injectables” belies a deeper, more delirious level of theorizing, one that extends tendrils into the very essence of what it means to create, to perform, to listen. Smith’s score is a nexus of alignments and nested codes, a system so densely packed with information that to engage with it is to find oneself reflecting on the nature of consciousness itself. What does it mean to understand music? To feel it? To be moved by it? These are the questions that “Injectables” poses, not just to the performer but to the audience, to the composer, to the very air through which its sounds will travel.

And yet, for all its perfectionism, all its meticulous control, “Injectables” is also an exercise in surrender. Smith must relinquish the illusion of absolute command, must acknowledge the fuzzy logic that underpins the relationship between creator, creation, and interpreter. This score is a living system, its rhythms and timbres a kind of biofeedback mechanism that connects composer, performer, and audience in a dynamic cognitive loop. The music that emerges from this process is unpredictable, uncontainable, a manifestation of precise practices that nonetheless open us to the uncharted territories of our own minds.

Smith's approach, deeply rooted in what might be termed "detailed expulsion theory," challenges not only how music is composed but also how it's perceived, experienced, and ultimately, how it reverberates within the human soul.

At he core of Smith's theory lies the concept of expulsion—not in the sense of mere removal or exclusion, but as a dynamic, generative process. Expulsion, in this context, refers to the deliberate distancing of elements within a composition from their conventional roles, expectations, or expressions. This is not a random scattering but a meticulous orchestration of dislocation, where every note, every timbre, and every rhythm is both a departure and a discovery.

Smith employs this theory to push the boundaries of musical notation, transforming it from a mere set of instructions into a map of potentialities. In his scores, traditional symbols coexist with innovative notational experiments, inviting performers to navigate a space where certainty is less important than exploration. The act of performing Smith's music becomes an act of creation in itself, a collaborative venture between composer and musician where the outcome is uncertain and the process is everything.

This expulsion from the traditional not only liberates the elements of music but also redefines the relationship between performer and score. Smith's compositions demand a level of engagement that transcends technical mastery, requiring performers to inhabit a space of heightened sensitivity and awareness. The performer, thus, becomes a medium through which the expelled elements of the composition find new form, new meaning, and new life.

- Joan Didion

Joan Didion was an American author best known for her novels, screenplays, and her literary journalism. In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University, and another from Yale University in 2011. She also wrote two memoirs of loss, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights

"Silver Stockholm" The Score. Commentary and Analysis by Cormac McCarthy, American Novelist

Vertical Orientation

"Silver Stockholm"

For Bass Clarinet, Cello and Harpsichord

Bil Smith Composer

104" X 10"

A Commission From Sage Group

Commentary by Cormac McCarthy, American Novelist

In the relentless pursuit of dismantling the traditional, of flinging wide the doors to rooms within rooms of musical architecture heretofore unexplored, comes this score, "Silver Stockholm" by composer Bil Smith.  Yes, sprawling across a sheet of unprecedented proportions—104 inches by a mere 10, imagine, as though one were trying to read the horizon itself—and yet within this expanse lies not the familiar, not the comfort of the staves and clefs and black dots neatly arrayed like soldiers, no. Here lies chaos, or so it seems at first blush, a chaos meticulously planned and plotted along axes not of our making but of the composer's, a realm where the Moire, hyperplexic in its complexity, invites, no, demands a recusal from the linear, the sequential, the narrative of music as we know it.

Consider, if you will, the audacity. The sheer, unmitigated gall of pushing notation from edge to edge, as though the very boundary of the page itself were but a mere suggestion, an inconvenience to be acknowledged and then promptly ignored. Within this frame, this canvas, the notes do not march; they cavort, they tangle in dense, wriggling fields, competing striations that defy the eye to follow without succumbing to vertigo. And yet, within this apparent anarchy, there is order, a discipline that speaks to a choreography of the mind so intricate, so private, that one might find oneself whispering of Cunningham, of Cage, those luminaries who too sought to break free from the shackles of the expected, the conventional.

And what of the performers, those brave souls called upon to navigate this maelic maelstrom? For them, the color, the hue of a note, a line, a smudge becomes a signifier, a beacon through the fog of complexity. These ridged, sinuous marks, they are not mere decoration but a language unto themselves, a notation that speaks of timbre and attack and decay as much as of pitch and rhythm. The performers, then, must become not just musicians but translators, interpreters of a script that acknowledges no master, that adheres to no orthodoxy.

Yet, for all its defiance, its reveling in the joyous liberation from form, there remains the grid. Ah, the grid, that imposition of order upon the chaotic, the unruly. It does not rationalize; no, that would be too simple, too pedestrian. It serves rather as a reminder, a concession to the necessity of form, of structure, however tenuous, however fluid. It is both a cage and a key, a means of navigating the vast, uncharted territories that "Silver Stockholm" lays bare before us.

Thus, we stand on the threshold, peering into the abyss that "Silver Stockholm" represents, an abyss not of nihilism but of possibility, of potentiality. For in its refusal to conform, in its daring to dream of a music not yet heard, it offers not just a new way of seeing, but a new way of hearing, a new way of understanding the very fabric of sound itself. It is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of tradition, a declaration that music, like all art, must evolve, must shatter its own boundaries if it is to capture, even fleetingly, the ineffable, the sublime, the truly divine.

In the depths of the score, past the initial shock of the novel's dimensions—this elongated strip of potentiality stretched out like the very horizon line where sky meets earth, lies the heart of the revolution, the Moire notational system. A system, if one dares call it that, where the term itself seems a mockery of the organized, the structured systems of old, where chaos and order dance in such close quarters that to distinguish one from the other becomes an exercise in futility, or perhaps, in enlightenment.

The Moire, with its hyperplexic tendencies, does not simply invite interpretation; it demands an unlearning of the learned, a forgetting of the familiar so that the eyes, and through them, the mind and soul, might see anew. These patterns, these interferences of line against line, shape against shape, create not just visual artifacts but a new language of music. It’s as if the composer, in their wisdom or their madness—often two sides of the same coin—decided that the traditional staves and bars were cages too small, too limiting for the beast they wished to unleash.

To engage with the Moire is to engage with a living thing. It pulses, it breathes, it moves in ways that defy the static nature of ink on paper. The performers, then, are not merely musicians but conjurers, tasked with the Herculean feat of translating this writhing, shifting mass of visual cues into sound. The notes, if one can still call them that, are not fixed points but suggestions, possibilities that exist in multiple states until the moment of performance, where they collapse into a single reality, only to become multitudinous once more in the memory of the event.

What, then, is the performer to make of this? How does one navigate a system where the rules are not broken, for breaking implies that they were ever adhered to, but rather ignored from the outset? It requires a redefinition of the role of the performer, from interpreter to collaborator, an equal partner in the creation of the piece with every performance. The Moire notational system, with its dense, competing striations and arcs that turn in on themselves, offers a multiplicity of paths through the piece, each valid, each unique.

This is not music as we have known it. This is a challenge to the very concept of what music can be, a testament to the composer's vision of a world unbound by the traditional constraints of notation, rhythm, and melody. The Moire notational system is a liberation, yes, but a daunting one, for with unlimited choice comes the weight of those choices, the responsibility for each note played or not played, for the music that is created or the silence that is allowed to speak.

And yet, despite—or perhaps because of—its complexities, its demands on both performer and audience, the Moire notational system represents a pivotal moment in the evolution of musical expression. It is a declaration that music is not merely sound organized in time but a living, breathing entity, capable of infinite change and growth. In "Silver Stockholm," and the Moire system at its heart, we find not the end of music as we know it, but the beginning of something new, something unexplored. A frontier not just to be seen and heard but to be ventured into, with all the peril and promise that such journeys entail.

The very essence, you see, in the hands of Bil Smith transforms—transmutes, if you will—these Moire patterns from mere visual phenomena into a notational ontology, an entire beingness of music notation. It's not just about seeing; no, that's too simple. It's about re-seeing, re-understanding what we perceive as music, as notation. These patterns, these moiré fringes, they're not just interference; they're a language, a complex, ever-shifting language that Smith, in his audacity, has dared to employ as the very foundation of his musical expression.

And what is this if not a challenge? A challenge to the performers, to the audience, to the very fabric of musical academia itself to reevaluate our preconceptions of what music notation is, what it can be. These patterns, born of the overlaying of one partially opaque, ruled pattern upon another, they create something new, something unanticipated. In mathematics, in physics, they represent a phenomenon, an effect. But in the hands of Smith, they become tools, instruments of a sort, for a new kind of musical composition and performance.

This is not merely about notes on a page. Anyone can write notes on a page. No, this is about creating a space where those notes can live, can breathe, can interact in ways previously unimagined. The moiré pattern, with its large-scale interference, becomes a metaphor for the music itself—complex, ever-changing, dependent on the perspective of the observer, or in this case, the performer. Each performance, then, becomes a unique event, a singular interpretation of the patterns before them, shaped as much by the performer's interaction with the notation as by Smith's compositional intentions.

It's here, in this space between intention and interpretation, that Smith's notational ontology truly comes to life. The score, such as it is, becomes a living document, not fixed in its meaning but fluid, open to the influences of time, of place, of the individual peculiarities of each performer. To engage with it, to perform it, requires not just technical skill, but a willingness to enter into a dialogue with the score itself, to negotiate the spaces between the patterns, to find the music hidden within the interference.

This is the genius of Smith's approach. By embracing the moiré pattern, by elevating it from a simple visual artifact to a complex notational system, he challenges us to reconsider our relationship with music, with performance, with the very act of creative expression. It's a daunting task, no doubt. It asks much of those who would engage with it, performers and audience alike. But in that asking, in that challenge, lies the possibility of discovering new realms of musical experience, of exploring the uncharted territories that lie just beyond the edge of our understanding.

In the end, what Smith offers us with his moiré notational ontology is not just a new way of composing or performing music, but a new way of thinking about music itself. It's an invitation to explore, to experiment, to engage with the unknown. And in that engagement, perhaps, we might find something truly new, something genuinely transformative. Not just for ourselves, but for the future of musical expression itself.

 - Cormac McCarthy, American Novelist

Sunday, February 18, 2024

"Warp+Weft" For Piano

"Warp + Weft" For Piano

Bil Smith Composer

Link to PDF


- Commentary by Cormac McCarthy.

“Warp + Weft” subverts disciplinary decorum, unsettling visual orthodoxies that typically govern score design. Much like the bold interlocking angularities in a Louise Nevelson sculpture, the work jostles quadratic staves against curvilinear ciphers that trace variegated topographical contours.

In places, the precarious cartography risks constraining legibility, yet a deeper wisdom lies in this constructed tension between discipline and disarray.

Like all innovatory scores that prod at the membrane of creative potential, “Warp + Weft” harvests instabilities as a fertile much for exploration. Its festooned notational elements exert centripetal gravitation, compelling alternative orientations to musical material that crack open calcified habits of musicianship.

The Pianist as "Executant" must renounce the linear march , instead diving into disjointed fragments that demand a mode of contemplation balanced tenuously between internal subjectivity and externalized energetic execution.

If a musical score hypothetically resembles an architectural plan, then “Warp + Weft” adopts modularity as its underlying schematic principle. Its segmented design presents not so much a concretized entity as a plastic assemblage of interchangeable building blocks awaiting imaginative configuration by the performing agent.

In the willingness to fracture compositional cohesion into rearrangeable pieces, there lies a liberatory ethics that grants hard-won autonomy to the practitioner traditionally relegated to rote regurgitation of supposed authorial intent.

Although its pioneer notations may initially bewilder, what appears on surface unruliness gives rise under patient examination to unfold vistas resonant with possibility.

The score for "Warp + Weft" unsettles not merely the eye, but the disciplined construals of recess and protrusion to which we have become accustomed in our engagement with musical texts. It presents us with voluptuous curves of topographical iconography that jostle, rather confrontationally, against the perpendiculars of the score's visibly precarious construction. This is not merely an aesthetic choice but a deliberate intellectual provocation, urging us to reconsider the relationship between the visual and auditory elements of musical experience.

In contemplating this score, we are reminded of the interplay between established categories and the stresses put upon them by any singular articulation. This dynamic tension is the rich loam from which the history of compositional innovation has always sprung.

To cultivate this ground, Bil Smith has chosen to elaborate its principal terms not like a mathematical proof, which proceeds with the inexorability of logic from premises to conclusion, but rather like a center of gravity exerting a centripetal force, drawing us into a deeper engagement with the fundamental principles of musical structure and notation.

As we grapple with its complexities and nuances, we may find ourselves not only appreciating a new form of musical expression but also gaining a deeper understanding of the ways in which music and notation reflect and shape our understanding of the world.

"Cormac McCarthy"

The Complete Score: One Page 34" X 16"