SMALL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE - Orbit Design (2012) Program Notes:
Orbit Design is a musical algorithm for three or more players (or singers / dancers / actors, etc...), inspired by the three-body problem in celestial mechanics. I owe thanks to Prof. Helmut Hofer, a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Ed Belbruno, a mathematician and artist (see painting above) who pioneered the use of chaos theory in the design of fuel-efficient routes for scientific space missions. I also owe a debt to John Zorn and Butch Morris, whose Cobra and Conductions offer examples of successful works in which improvised material is structured using pre-determined rules, and to choreographer Abigail Levine, with whom I developed and honed ideas for this piece.
The three-body problem is the dynamic system describing the movement of three celestial bodies under Newtons law of gravity. The movement of two large bodies can be predicted for a long time with high accuracy. This is, however, not the case for the three-body problem, which exhibits chaos. If the three masses have comparable sizes it becomes impossible to predict their movements for an extended period, even if their initial state is measured accurately. With four or more bodies, the scenario becomes even less predictable.
In Orbit Design, formal aspects of this mathematical / physical model are mapped onto live performance. Three or more performers are the bodies that sonically portray the gravitational choreography. The game taxes their skills and perception via material chosen by the players themselves. A set of guidelines assists them to structure a path for decision-making as events unfold. I therefore left the decision-making in the hands of the performers; as John Cage wrote, My work became an exploration of non-intention&making my responsibility that of asking questions instead of making choices.