January 21, 2017, Mark Menzies, Violin, As a part of his project 4 in the time of 7, Coaxial, Los Angeles, CA
This work explores the idea of multiplicity within a solo context by categorizing violin performance approaches into quite limited frames. The (perhaps arbitrary) distinctions between frames shift focus (allowing new allegiances) throughout the piece. Consider, for a moment, shoji – moveable rice paper walls from Japan.
The division of space, and the assignment of its constituents, is accepted as a means of controlling the local environment, even when the nature of the divisions – their permeability to sounds and shapes – is temporary and flimsy. To feel as if one has privacy within paper walls is to willfully ignore the fragility of the barrier and to rely upon the shared cultural understanding of its function. Function trumps structure.
The piece begins by presenting a succession of paired behaviors that interrupt each other. Some pairs are distinguished more subtly than others, which influences the degree to which one recognizes interruptions. After the scope of materials is introduced, then, the polyphonic implications are entertained. The degree to which multiple strands of simultaneous behavior can be projected by the violin soloist marks the speculative territory of the piece. The work proceeds as a series of duos (even developing towards a “duo of duos” and back), sometimes presenting multiple strands of related materials. A preliminary sketch score containing multiple staves was subjected to editorial processes (developed in previous projects) designed to disrupt continuity in order to distill a single-staff performance score. This final score reveals the fuzzy boundaries I mentioned above; however, while the score partially manages the traversal of ideas, not all decisions – pragmatic or expressive – are made for the performer.
The nature of change, of instability, of fragility is a consistent component of my work, but the meaning here is slightly different. In this piece I hope to avoid the sensation of frantic excess; rather, the intent is to imply a Buddhist ideal of impermanence. Beauty is fleeting, leaves fall and decay – the contrast between sustain and decay seems crucial, here. These are important, orienting sensibilities for this piece as opposed to some effort towards a broader expressive theory. Each work has its own set of inferences, it seems to me, and the Japanese elements in this one are due to a general interest in Japanese culture as well as in honor of the violinist Urara Mogi, to whom Shoji is dedicated.