triadic memories

In this 90-minute work, the Sanctuary of St. James by the Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla was transformed into a large-scale video and sound installation. While the concept of the piece is centered around a zen-like simplicity, the production of such a dramatic staging in a large space is not.

This collaboration with pianist Brenden Nguyen and Project [Blank] pairs a performance in-the-round of Morton Feldman’s classic work Triadic Memories with a realtime generative video installation. Subtle performance dynamics are picked up by microphones and analyzed moment to moment by computer during the performance. This information is used to evolve a disrupted fractal nest that is projected onto two room-filling corridors of fabric.

From the program notes:

In a “formless” music there are many opportunities to experience aspects of organized sound that rarely enjoy the foreground. For a listener accustomed to periodic relationships, overt structure, and other common musical or psychoacoustic anchors, encountering a music that is organized in terms of scale and proportion is a rare opportunity indeed. It is a chance to enter into what feels like a boundless, stateless soundworld. When I was asked to create a something for this performance of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories, my first thought was: what can possibly be added to the experience of this work that won’t detract from its delicate and unusual beauty? For a composition so full of asymmetries and thwarted pattern the notion of how musical memory functions isn’t just subverted, it is central to the entire experience. Inside Triadic Memories, time and therefore memory occur along uncertain trajectories, and the clock ticks only when it wants. So my something, whatever it was going to be, needed to consider that too.

As with many others who have worked to find themselves within Feldman’s music, his well-documented fascination with hand-woven carpets was my way in. Embedded deep within these artifacts, and seemingly at all levels of zoom, exists a veritable dictionary of late-era Feldman aesthetics: repetition, pattern, memory, “imperfection”, disruption of form, tiny maneuvers writ large across evolving fields of sound and color. But unlike the seeming boundlessness of his music, the carpet itself is material; It can be held and touched and scrutinized. It begins and it ends. It is not bound by time in the same way as sound.

So after a couple false starts my project clarified: with this installation I would not “add” anything. Nor would I represent anything that was not already there in the music, available to be discovered by other means. Nor would I present anything at all that could not be ignored entirely in favor of a pure sonic experience. And I would return to the material, as Feldman did with his carpets. In this installation I represent the mysteries and complexities of the score using light projected onto two upward sloping corridors of fabric. Both the color and the geometry of the projections themselves are algorithmically linked to Feldman’s original materials (the score), and also to a real-time analysis of audio captured during Brendan Nguyen’s live performance. In this way musical memory, in the ways it is inscribed and erased from our minds via the ears, is given a new way to inhabit us via the eyes. Another opportunity to create and convey meaning. A new life via a new sense of the body. As with sound, this translation will work for some and not for others. If you are inspired by the process I invite you to leave your eyes and ears open as you explore these intermodal spaces. And if instead you prefer to let your ears alone guide your journey I know you will be in excellent company.

—Jason Ponce

    May 2019