Symphony - the video

After Redrawing

After the Redrawing collective's Collected Collaborations show in 2011, I planned two sequels to  String Quartet No. 2 (Canon in Beta). One of these was Spectral Shadow of String Quartet No. 2 (Canon in Beta), and the other was Symphony.

String Quartet No. 2 began as an attempt to emulate Phill Niblock’s music without having heard it. I had gotten the idea that it generally involved someone playing one note over and over again, overdubbing it lots of times until it created a blur of sound distinct in identity yet ambiguous in character. Upon closer inspection Niblock’s technique turned out to be a bit more complex than that, which was slightly disappointing. On the upside, it left the way clear for me.

As it turned out, making String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) entailed some satisficing in its material.  Symphony gets closer to the original conception of one aspect of the piece (a single pitch), and yet further away from another (diverse instrumentation). The piece therefore has less harmony (and become closer to my original understanding of Niblock’s music) but greater timbral diversity (unlike Niblock’s pieces for multiples of the same instrument). For me, the interest in making this piece was to discover what is lost and gained in the trade-off between timbre and harmony, and to find out which of these two unfaithful copies is closer to the model they seek to imitate. As a piece of music in its own right, it exists to be a cheap imitation, reminiscent of something else yet unmistakably itself.

The video component of Symphony was made soon after the music was completed. Like the music, it is a monochrome. The screen is filled with a series of shades of blue, each shade created through chance operations. Each blue is subject to several simultaneous processes and transitions, from one shade to the next. Why blue? It’s a cool, receding primary colour. Besides its more obvious references to Derek Jarman and Yves Klein, I was also thinking of John Cage’s selection of colours when making Changes and Disappearances, where every tint had to include at least a small amount of blue because he “wanted the colours to look like they had been to grad school.”

Ben.Harper, 2012.