Saturday, February 24, 2024

"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

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