the square of yellow light that is your window
for alto saxophone, electric guitar, piano, and percussion(2014)
|Premiere||April 2014; Paine Hall, Harvard Music Department|
This piece has a lot to do with eyes. Imagine these two different creatures:
The first is a dragonfly; with eyes that are so big they cover almost its entire head, giving it a helmeted appearance and a full 360-degree field of vision. Its eyes are made up of 30,000 visual units called ommatidia, each one containing a lens and a series of light-sensitive cells. It also has three smaller eyes named ocelli, which can detect movement faster than the huge compound eyes can. These ocelli quickly send visual information to the dragonfly’s motor centers, allowing it to react in a fraction of a second. Although a tiny being, its entire body is covered in powerful light detecting cells.
The second creature is a multi-armed, deep-sea being, which lives in an aphotic zone of the ocean, where very little light infiltrates. Due to the extreme darkness of its habitat, this burrowing creature has adapted to life without sight, and it relies on its other highly developed senses for survival. It has a dispersed nervous system in which each arm essentially has its own brain and a complex mouth with multiple speech organs. When threatened, this creature can roll into a tight ball and draw its arms up over itself, forming a defensive web that covers its entire body.
Now imagine that structures similar to these are present in this piece, that a trio of piano, percussion, and electric guitar form a self-contained, blinded, impermeable, sonic biosphere. And the saxophone, in extreme contrast, is a giant retina with thousands of light-sensitive cells, like the dragonfly.
Because of its powerful detection skills, the saxophone possesses a self-control and agility that the trio cannot muster in itself: it can connect to the wild, untamed nature of the trio but also has the ability to pull itself back to a centre of stability and focus. And most importantly, it can see a vital element of the trio that, because of both its pitch-black habitat and its other highly-developed senses, the trio itself has forgotten about: its eyes. For the saxophone, the sonic representation of these “eyes” provide a tiny window of light into the trio’s architecture, a light towards which it can guide the trio, encouraging it to tune into something different than its previous myopic, megalomaniac focus. The window that it opens re-orientates and re-temporises the whole structure of the trio, allowing it to both see again and to observe itself and its surroundings from a different angle.
The compulsion to write the square of yellow light that is your window partially evolved from the thoughts of Oscar Wilde, who I think chose to see the world through some of the most observant and compelling windows imaginable. This one is particularly relevant to this piece: “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
– Ann Cleare