SMALL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE - Orbit Design (2012) Program Note

During my tenure at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, I have attended several lectures on the subject of space-time, gravity, and the multiverse by the renowned theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed. Nima's talks -- always expansive, extroverted, and inspiring -- describe phenomena at both tiny and enormous ends of the cosmic scale. His depictions (and diagrams) of gravity are exciting and dynamic, and I wondered how they might be expressed in musical terms. As I had been discussing with the phenomenal JACK quartet the possibility of writing a clarinet quintet for them + me, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Inspired by Nima's powerful sense of cosmological narrative, "A Short History of the Universe" presents musical depictions of our constant companion gravity, expressed both horizontally (in time, i.e. duration/speed) and vertically (in space, i.e. pitch/contour). Glissandi on the clarinet and in the strings spring away from and bounce back to the original notes. By exploring various ways of stretching and compacting, or "curving" musical spacetime, I hope to evince a sort of general relativity for the ears.

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