An Unaware Cosmos

Complete Work Title: 

An Unaware Cosmos — modular cycle for mixed chamber ensembles


Performance Medium: 

various mixed chamber ensembles.


Movements: 

• Unweaving a Rainbow, for viola (or violin) and piano
• Transient Dominion, for trumpet, bass trombone, piano, and percussion (tom-toms, cymbals, tam-tam)
• The Indelible Stamp of Our Lowly Origin, for four contrabasses
• Blind Watchmaker, for contrabassoon and 2 percussion (4 woodblocks, 4 log drums)
• Celestial Teapot, for percussion (vibraphone, crotales, tam-tams) and piano
• La Contagion sacrée, for trumpet, horn, trombone, and percussion (optional, one player: afuche, sand blocks, or rattle)
• The Illusion of Permanence, for violin and violoncello
• Shadows on the Horizon, for string quartet
• Die Tyrannei der Mehrheit, for low brass (four parts, up to four players per part, drawn from bass trumpets, euphoniums, tubas) and percussion (2 to 4 players: chimes, tam-tams; gongs, bell plates, and almglocken, ad libitum)
• Pascal's Fallacy, for saxophone quartet (SATB, ATTB, AAAA)
• A Fleeting Symmetry, for guitar, harp, and harpsichord
• Glorious Accidents, for 4 woodwinds (double-reeds and/or saxophones)
• On the Perimeter of Ignorance, for piccolo, celesta, and flexatone
• A Splendid Torch, for solo piccolo trumpet
• Que sçay-je, for solo Eb clarinet
• A Delicate Geometry, for voice (countertenor or mezzo-soprano), electric guitar, and accordion (or harmonium or positive organ)


Duration: 

variable (c.10:00-30:00+)


Dedication: 

A celebration of humankind’s quest for knowledge through skepticism and critical inquiry, and to those freethinkers who have devoted their lives to such noble pursuits.


Date Composed: 

2012-17


Performance Information: 

• The individual modules in this cycle are mutable, allowing for the resulting music to be fragmented, dislocated, suspended, disrupted, and penetrated in often unpredictable ways, and exploring a variety of relationships—timbral, spatial, conceptual, structural—both within and between modules.

• At least three modules must be included in any performance of An Unaware Cosmos


Additional Information: 

• This work is supported in part by a faculty fellowship from the University of North Texas Institute for the Advancement of the Arts. 


Performance History: 

Joseph Klein, JAMU student ensembles:
• 21 October 2015, Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (Brno, Czech Republic); realization with eight modules.

Joseph Klein, UNT faculty and student ensembles:
• 18 March 2014, University of North Texas (Denton, TX); realization with three modules (Transient DominionUnweaving a RainbowThe Indelible Stamp of Our Lowly Origin) [premiere].


Program Notes: 

The history of art, music, and literature through the ages is rife with works rooted in their respective cultural mythologies; in contrast, the influence of science and mathematics on the arts has been primarily theoretical in nature (e.g., the overtone series and musical temperament, the golden ratio in ancient Greek architecture, tessellations in Moorish tile work, or the introduction of perspective in Renaissance painting).  Only during the past half-century or so have such paradigms—as manifestations of objective reality—served as a basis for artistic expression. 

While my own work has regularly drawn upon models and metaphors from mathematics and the sciences as a reflection of the natural world, in more recent years—and in part as a response to the preponderance of works that extol the pervasive mythologies of our present culture—I have become increasingly compelled to create a work that pays homage to those freethinkers who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of truth, many of whom suffered persecution and punishment by the authorities of their respective eras.  In that spirit, An Unaware Cosmos was conceived as a celebration of humankind’s quest for knowledge through skepticism and critical inquiry, as well as a rebuke of the tribalism, superstition, and sophistry that continue to characterize much of our society well into the 21st century.  Scientists, philosophers, writers, and political figures including Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan are among those who have inspired the varied works in this cycle.  Concepts relating to cosmology, evolutionary biology, genetics—as well as aspects of materialism, existentialism, humanism, and other nontheistic philosophies—have informed this modular work for mixed chamber ensembles.

The entire cycle comprises sixteen individual modules for various combinations of instruments; the mutable arrangement of these modules is intended to explore a variety of relationships—timbral, spatial, conceptual, structural—both within and between modules. In performance, music from these various modules is fragmented, dislocated, suspended, disrupted, and penetrated, often in unpredictable ways. This modular approach to form is derived from an Eternalist temporal model, whereby time may be conceived as spherical rather than linear, with all events theoretically existing simultaneously as opposed to sequentially; thus any given realization of An Unaware Cosmos is simply one of a potentially limitless number of ways the work may unfold.  By challenging our assumptions regarding musical form, this model also alludes to what is known in cosmology as the Anthropic Principle—i.e., that our perception of the Universe is the result of an anthropocentric bias: rather than being custom-made and fine-tuned to accommodate life, this principle posits that such a perception is purely subjective, and that only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there exist intelligent beings to presume any such fine tuning, whereas a universe incompatible with life will go unobserved.  Applying this concept to the perception of musical form suggests that our teleological approach to listening is the result of centuries-old cultural biases, which themselves have been called into question by recent generations of composers.

An Unaware Cosmos has been supported in part by a fellowship from the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas.