...and try to become the Light? (2019)

for alto saxophone & percussion

Commissioned by Popebama

…and try to become the Light? instills an ever-present urgency within the performer. The score is destabilized from its traditional tangible 2-D form through the employment of numerous psychologized and perception-focused notational devices, gestures beyond the limits of notation, video notation, and games. Large portions of the score are video and/or audio events which the performers attempt to embody in realtime. The piece taps into the primitive human mimetic faculty which lies at the root of early languages and musical notation (cheironomy) to suppress intention and reason, and foreground intuition, failure and proprioceptive 



The score functions as an impossible-to-realize “ideal space” [superabundant notation, disparate/paradoxical gestures to be synthesized, absurd game mechanisms, mimesis of unreplicable events involving discrete perceptual modalities, etc.] which meets and reacts with the “real space” [human psychophysical limitations, time, space, etc.] in a “point of rot”. In this point of rot, the ideal, overwhelming stimulations demanding immediate responses steals the mental bandwidth normally allotted to intention, interaction, measurement of time, etc. This subversion of intention and embrace of intuition and immediacy, results in an authentic, utterance of stoic failure imprinted with the performer’s kinesthetic identity. 


Part I places each performer in different perceptual and temporal realms. The percussionist’s score is a video/audio file with animated graphics. They are instructed to mimic the instrumental events viewed, while simultaneously mimicking independent vocal events (presented through audio). In some cases the video is cut-out causing the perceptual modalities active in the performer to shift, rendering them reliant on and more attentive to their aural experiences. Meanwhile, the saxophonist operates from a separate (paper) score. They see the waveforms of the percussionist’s source audio with important sonic events highlighted. The saxophonist's sense of time hinges on cues observed and/or given from the percussionist, and must attempt to align with the their unfolding mimicry. Both performers experience time differently. The percussionist has no responsibility to actively count time as the video will simply stop when they need to stop, begin when they need to begin, and cue when they need to cue. The saxophonist’s sense of time is driven by the exactness and stability of the percussionist’s mimicry. The perceptual performativity of the percussionist is the saxophonist's temporal north star. How much of and what actions specifically the percussionist can physically personify moment-to-moment, performance-to-performance, is highly volatile, leaving the saxophonist with an unreliable reference point. They must be acutely aware of time and anticipate events in the percussionist’s part, events that are sometimes left un-actualized. In this case, if the percussionist delays, or omits, the realization of a cue, the saxophonist’s anticipation is subverted resulting in a temporal hiccup.


Part II activates the physicality of the performers through vocalizations and body percussion. Here they both read from the same score and engage in interactive streams of dialogue. Towards the end of the section, improvisation becomes commonplace.


Part III engages in a game mechanism which “hacks” into the cognitive process of reading and symbology. Each of the performers have two items, a “passage” which is simply a piece of text and a “key” which pairs each letter of the alphabet to a performative event. Both performers are now independent and have no responsibility to temporally align or cue one another. Each performer has a different key and passage. The performers read through the passage (internally, not aloud) letter by letter, locate the current letter in the key, perform the paired event immediately the cognitive connection is made and then move on to the next letter. For example, if the first word is “the”, you will perceive the letter “T” from the passage, then locate “T” on the key and perform the associated event then do the same for “h” etc. In effect, the unfolding temporal landscape is the tempo of the performer’s cognitive association. This tempo of the mind is subverted by the addition of a dual-task which the performers must engage with in parallel. The relative difficulty of the dual-task in any given moment influences the speed of this cognitive connection.

© 2020 by Ryan Carraher