Dedicated to David Felder :: Duration: ca. 16′
Premiere: Slee Sinfonietta – 9 April 2009, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
The title down / among the altitudes is taken from the book-length poem Anathemata by the Welsh poet David Jones. The passage from which the phrase in the title is taken describes, in a wide-ranging fashion typical of the poem, the changing of the Earth’s surface on a geologic time-scale as it intersects with the genius loci-based nature of native Celtic mythology – itself in turn a distorted reference to the Catholic Mass, around which the entire poem is somehow constructed.
All that aside, the present work is, in its first half (comprising the first movement), a similarly “geologic” endeavor. Very little happens on the large scale, and that which does happen takes place slowly, and within a strictly circumscribed zone: one unchanging tempo, a narrow (very quiet) dynamic range, a narrow (high) registral environment, and virtually without exception one single (undifferentiatedly active) texture. The focus of this movement is entirely on the fact of the entry and exit of various instrumental subgroups, and the various innate energies they bring to their own struggles with these restrictions. The piano and percussion (exclusively crotales, with the exception of a vibraphone passage near the beginning) play characterlessly and aimlessly throughout, grounding the music even more tightly around a single timbral strand.
The second half of the piece, comprising movements II through VI (which, theoretically speaking, together have a duration exactly equal to that of the first movement, and share an identical sequence of bar lengths and time signatures), is a spectacular explosion of this singularity and simultaneously an attempt to “fill in the gaps” that are an artifact of the eddies of local repetition that destroy much of the material meant to appear in the first movement. That material appears in these broken shards instead, placed in time where they ought to have appeared in the first movement, as the piece stumbles fitfully to a close. down / among the altitudes finally ends in exhaustion, as it manages, gasping, to present the last chord for which it is responsible.