Monday, 21 May 2012

About Between the Moon and the Earth

This piece was composed between 1999 and 2001 and first performed in 2001. 

I have for a long time been fascinated by the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 70s,  I recall being 9 years old when the moon landing happened and being transfixed by it as I lay in hospital having just had my tonsils removed. 1999 was the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing and this re-ignited my fascination, providing the inspiration for the piece.

I have always been interested in processes, systems, references, numbers, patterns and symmetry in music and there are examples of all these elements in this piece. When I composed it I was particularly interested in two compositional ideas. One was the contrast between the linear and the multiple or the constant and the random. This is evident in the linear chord progression that underpins, and provides the pulse for, the piece contrasting with the floating, slightly disconnected strings and piano that play over it. The second technique that I was developing was the practice of disruptive systems (partially inspired by the concern over the millennium bug which was prevalent at this time). One of the ways that I achieved this was by setting up a sequence of regular rhythms and bar lengths and then either extending individual bars or holding notes to disrupt the regularity, both of these techniques can be heard in this work.

There are also a number of processes that occur in the piece. One example is the textural process that runs through the opening few minutes. The strings are gradually transformed from playing a percussive, col legno style (a reference to Holst's The Planets) to an expressive arco. The process is a gradual one, all instruments begin playing col legno and all end playing arco but they are changed slowly, one at a time, from col legno through pizzicato to arco. Working in parallel with this is the opening out of the range of the musical material which, when the piece begins, is compressed into a narrow area that is gradually expanded until the point at which all the strings are playing arco. 

Of course, the music is only one element of this work and the astronauts' words and film are equally, if not more, important. Both the film and speech is from the Apollo 8 mission which was the first to circle the moon and therefore the first to look back on the earth as a small, distant planet. The astronauts describe in detail both the beauty of the earth and the desolation of the moon. This piece is not about the journey to the moon and back but is about the idea of being in the middle, of floating in space, of seeing both the moon and the earth but not belonging to either. 

Simon Belshaw

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