Music Musicology Poetry Gallery

String Quartet No. 3
1997, 10:30

String Quartet No. 3 is a set of variations on a structural theme that pervades all four movements. The composer used the computer for abstractly planning the composition, then interpreted numerical output in terms of his knowledge of string instruments. In stipulating an underlying structure, the composer starts with dimly envisioned goals, reads the computer output, and resubmits the input as long as is necessary until his esthetic goals are met. It is the feedback loop between the computer's algorithms and the living consciousness of the composer that shapes the work. However, the computer has no say in the overall form; it only computes materials for sections. The composer alone decides how to shape the musical form, by sequencing musical materials in time. In this way, the out-of time work is given over to automation, while the in-time flow of musical materials fully remains the composer's responsibility.

In this quartet, each movement's structure is characterized by a difference in the number of independent voices, from 1 (movement I) to 4 (movement II). The more voices are used, the more the degree of freedom to interpret output during the creative process is reduced, so that the requirements for disciplined specification of input to the computer program are correspondingly increased. In the quartet, the change from 1 to 4 independent voices can be traced in the progression from movement I (1 voice) to III (2 voices) to IV (3 voices) to II (4 voices). Voices not computed by algorithm are derived from the computer output through the composer's interpretation.

In spirit, the quartet follows the composer's belief that structural decisions are fully sufficient to determine esthetic content. Working with stipulations, the composer trusts that his ability to design and plan musical progressions according to rules will yield esthetically relevant results, and that the unity of the material used will guarantee the integrity of the work as a whole. This belief was tested over a five-year period in which the many changes in the composer's life did not deter him from pursuing the work as planned. The work can be heard as a document testifying to the integrity of the musical mind unassailable by time passing, which is achieved by creating passages of time in a wholly symbolic medium.