Perpetual Quartet

Mori Project: Perpetual Quartet

The Roppongi Hills video installation project promises to be conceptually interesting and visually beautiful. As the composer hired to provide accompanying music, I have found it challenging and fascinating to explore the potential of the project for innovation in the realm of ambient sound in public space and music for video.


I have developed a compositional direction in connection with this project which I believe manages to address its various problems and potentials from a sound perspective in a unique and hopefully compelling way. In order to achieve this I have drawn on ideas from the work of three composers: Steve Reich, Morton Feldman and John Cage, celebrated artists who have tackled applicable conceptual issues of ambience and organic composition in the past.

While planning my Perpetual Quartet I have tried to address three fundamental requirements in connection with the proposed visual component: content, duration and space.

The conceptual content of the proposed video component seems to revolve around the potential for organic possibilities in new urbanism. In a better planned, more humanely organized city setting, the development of synthesized nature promises a future of calm and warmth in a context usually associated with chaos and coldness. I am proposing a piece of music which "synthesizes nature" by emulating organic processes in a constantly changing but perpetually beautiful way. This is achieved by recording each component of the quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello) separately and having them play without synchronization. As the piece is repeatedly broadcast the instruments will go more and more "out of synch", creating an ever-changing, random development of harmony and rhythmic counterpoint. In this way the piece will be constantly recomposing itself. The use of a quietly played string quartet–instrumentation traditionally associated with intimate settings–will create a sense of warmth and calm not usually found in a large urban setting.

The video component of the proposed project will be on a loop, constantly repeating, creating an endless duration. To engage in this kind of repetition in the visual realm is one thing, but to present a perpetually recurring audio work in a public space is quite another. I think my proposal properly addresses this by suggesting a piece of music that is a) never heard the same way twice, and b) relatively quietly played on beautiful sounding instruments in a sparse arrangement. The musical language of the piece will be essentially diatonic, or free of the jarring dissonance usually associated with contemporary experimental music, but will naturally engage in moments of challenging harmony as the quartet parts randomly interact, preventing a feeling of musical banality and repetition.

The space in which the video installation will be housed is rather large, creating a further challenge for the sound component. The Perpetual Quartet concept will only be enhanced by the nature of the proposed setting because of the potential for a substantial sound echo which will increase the ambient textures of the instruments. Echo of this dimension might obscure or oppressively amplify a piece with drums or denser arrangements. The largeness of the space will also facilitate the possibility for a multi-faceted listening experience, as each instrument of the quartet will appear in its own designated speaker, creating an endless array of vantage points. Standing next to a speaker broadcasting, say, the cello part will result in a particular perception of the piece, whereas standing more towards the center of the space will give the listener an echo-enhanced blend of all the instruments.

The quartet will be recorded on four separate cds lasting approximately 15 minutes, (it is the slight variations in duration of each part which will facilitate the all-important desynchronization). These cds will be played on four separate players set to repeat and broadcast through at least four speakers. It would also be possible to present a one-time live performance of the piece at the opening of the installation.

April, 2001

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