Programme notes

This piece is an experiment in translation from architecture, and was written for the Royal String Quartet. The composition was based on an analysis of a specific building – the music department at the Stranmillis College in Belfast. Designed in 1968 (H. Wightman) it is a remarkable piece of architecture, both placeless (its UFO-like shape so reinforces) and beautifully integrated in the landscape. To help articulate the different ways the building can inform the composition, I based each part on three different works by three Polish artists whose work has been fascinating me.

Part 1 uses elements from the material found in Penderecki’s second string quartet (1968) to articulate a wide range of musical textures and timbres, through peculiar symbols and wobbly lines. It is my subjective sonification of the building, at once formal, conceptual,  phenomenological. At once ambiguous and contradictory.

Part 2 is based on a graphic score that refers to Edward Krasiński, Poland’s first conceptual artist who in 1968 started to stick blue tape as an artistic statement, in the art gallery, on the street, on art pieces and even over people. That line is transported to the score and guides the quartet through different perspectives of the building, its materials, textures and shapes.

Part 3 is based on Stanisław Lem’s novel His Master’s Voice (1968) that talks about our inability to translate and understand an alien message. From a recording of my voice reading an excerpt of the text (in polish) inside the building, revealing its resonant frequencies, I created a sound score  – to be translated and studied by ear and not by sight, which is, I should say, an impossible task.

“But it happened instead that the unknown Sender committed a dreadful faux pas, because his letter was without introductions, without a grammar, without a dictionary – an enormous letter, recorded on almost a kilometre of magnetic tape.”

Stanisław Lem, His Master’s Voice, 1968 (translation by Michael Kandel).