memoryscape

Ensemble (15), soundtrack, text projection [32′].

memoryscape is written for Ensemble musikFabrik (DE) and premiered at their WDR concert series on 27 February 2010. Scored for their forces with soundtrack and video projection, it is based on the concept of early memory.

A few years ago I started collecting the early memories of friends. I would ask them to recall the earliest memory they could remember and I would record them recounting this. I did this without having a clear idea of what I wanted to do with these recordings, but I found it fascinating. These were after all one of the most personal things one can know of somebody. It is however a question most people respond to with a great deal of uncertainty. It's very difficult to pinpoint the actual earliest memory we have, mostly we have to somehow infer the date by the facts that we know about our life. In any case there are usually a handful of memories from something like the age of between 3 and 7 which remain accessible into adulthood. I was fascinated by the fragility of these memories, the how and the why we have access to some memories and not others. It is not so much the fact that we don't have the capacity for memory at an early age, but that much of what we retain in our minds as children is lost as we move into our teens. Psychologists call this childhood amnesia. For memories to survive into adulthood, sensory information encoded by synapses between our brain cells must be regularly accessed to consolidate our memories. So it is no surprise that most of our earliest memories involve an event which left a significant emotional response.

In the last years I was experimenting with a compositional process that had some resonances with they way memory shapes and transform sensory information. I would start at a point where I was trying to recall a sound. I would interpret it and encode it as musical information, and then I would constantly revisit or reassess the memory or the memory of the memory until it began to transform it something else. Sometimes this transformation would be very minor, sometimes it would become something entirely other, sometimes it would split into contrapuntal branches, a way of exploring various possible variations of an idea at the same time. This last multilayered approach also suited my musical preferences for a type of polyphony which encompasses at times differing time perceptions, for instance having one material developing very slowly and another material that is moving fast, fleeting and barely perceptible, or say the combination of electronic and acoustic sounds which merge and diverge, and develop at different rates of change.

The underlying backbone of memoryscape is formed by 15 solos, one for each of the instruments of musikFabrik, which are based on 15 of these early memories which I collected from friends (including myself). I wanted to deal with musikFabrik as an ensemble of soloists which in fact they are, rather than as a small orchestra. These solos are influenced by either the narrative content or the speech rhythms or timbre of the voice recounting, or sometimes just my own subjective portrait of the emotional content of the memory. These acoustic solos are placed in specific times in an electroacoustic landscape formed by the temporal and spectral transformation of these solos. We hear traces of the solos in the fabric of the electronic landscape, which stretches these sound-memories into slowly evolving layers of sonic matter, creating an immersive field of sound that somehow contain these narratives. The third layer of sound in the piece comes from the ensemble music which traces lines of these memories through the instrumental colours of the ensemble, as they gradually gather on stage and then depart. The musicians enter and exit the stage starting and ending in the backdrop of the sonic landscape. This final and almost theatrical aspect of the piece is simply there to underlie the overall narrative of the work, namely the formation and loss of these early memories.

Acknowledgments

I'm indebted in making this piece to all the many friends who entrusted me with their earliest memories, those that are used in the piece and those that are not. To the filmmaker Joost Rekveld with whom working on the music to his film #37 in 2008, gave me some inspiration in creating the sonic landscape of this piece. And to the musicians of musikFabrik, who having got to know them a few years ago with the queen is the supreme power in the realm project, confirmed in my mind that they are some of the best musicians to work with in the field of contemporary music.