String Quartet no. 2 – “The Void”

This piece was inspired by the 36th koan listed in Nyogen Senzaki’s collection of 100 Zen Koans, The Iron Flute. 1It reads:

36. Where to Meet After Death

Tao-wu paid a visit to his sick brother monk, Yun-yen. “Where can I see you again, if you die and leave only your corpse here?” asked the visitor. “I will meet you in the place where nothing is born and nothing dies,” answered the sick monk. Tao-wu was not satisfied with the answer and said, “What you should say is that there is no place in which nothing is born and nothing dies, and that we need not see each other at all.”

When I first read this koan I was immediately fascinated with the concept of “the place where nothing is born and nothing dies.” I believe it boils down to a single word: the void. However contradictory to Yun-yen’s statement it may be, Tao-wu’s insistence that there is no such place also suggests a certain idea of something void. Simply put, the phrase is what brought about the initial inspiration regardless of philosophical interpretation.

As a result the concept of the void is entertained throughout the piece by the sustaining of single harmonies for long periods of time. At times, particularly during the middle of the piece, this sustenance is masked by a higher level of rhythmic activity and timbral transformation. Silence is also used as a means of illustrating a sense of the void. In light of this conceptualization it is my sincerest hope that listeners might enter a reflective, even meditative state of mind by experiencing the piece.

1Senzaki, Nyogen, The Iron Flute: 100 Zen Koans Tuttle Publishing. 2000.

For detailed information about the scordatura tuning used in the piece see the document hosted at this link.

Performers

Micah Vogel, Sabrina Boggs – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Malcolm King – Cello

String Quartet no. 1

This String Quartet is made up of three movements with the two outer movements serving as mirrored poles and a contrasting second movement in the middle. The piece is very free but the first and third movements are comprised (almost) entirely of a repetitive intervallic pattern which is cut up and manipulated in many ways, so as to make it mostly unrecognizable. In the second movement, the darkness of the outer movements subsides, giving way to a droning foundation and singing melody. Tremendous gratitude belongs to the literary work of William S. Burroughs, whose revolutionary cut up method in part inspired the techniques that I employed throughout the piece in developing my interval fragments.

Performers: Micah Vogel, Emily Criss – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Laura Robb Martin – Cello

 

 

Premiered 5-1-18