was privileged to be acquainted with A.A. Attanasio,
the author of the science fiction tome Radix, when he
was still at work on the novel, and its publication
by Morrow in August of 1981 was a signal event for all
of us in his circle of friends. The critical and public
reaction to the work, set thirteen centuries into Earth's
future, was duly ecstatic. The story line is so long
and involved and the list of characters and the permutations
some of them pass through so redoubtable that a standard
movie adaptation was quite out of the question. Even
today I doubt that it could be done. But someone approached
the author with the possibility of an animated setting,
whereupon he turned eagerly to me, as the person he
deemed most likely to underscore the cartoon in a manner
sympathetic with the novel's world view. Or should I
say, universe view? Or, multiverse view?
Music, after the novel Radix (Attanasio), for
piano quartet, op. 41
The music begins with the Nothungs chasing Sumner.
It cuts to the desert trek abruptly at (00:59).
The still point, viola solo is heard at (02:08).
Soon (03:27), the music accelerates back into
the chase tempo in a climactic fugato (03:47)
in which the Nothung theme is heard both rightside-up
and upside-down. The chase and desert musics
alternate for the remainder of the movement.
Assia's theme is heard first (06:47). Soon is
heard Jac's melody (08:40). The Nobu countermelody
with it is heard at (09:13). The chromatic fourths
"going vertical" are first heard at
First (12:18), the struggle between the two
tonalities. Corby's ostinato is at (12:43).
The music drops to half tempo (13:31) in anticipation
of Jeanlu's cantilena (14:06). The melodic "dollop"
I mention, which generates the movement's coda
later, is right at (15:29). A tranquil three-note
ascending scale (heard first back at 15:11)
is abruptly sped up (16:12) into a passage that
links back to the opening tempo and theme (the
sudden turning of a corner I mention), which
had used and uses again the very same figure,
albeit to very different effect. The clinching
coda commences at (16:55).
Nothing need be said about the berceuse except
that it begins at (17:33).
was naïve enough at the time to believe that
a pitch of this ilk was likely to come to fruition.
There are always people out there with ideas. Sometimes
rights are bought up just to make sure that no-one
else makes good on a given idea! And only a babe in
the woods like me would think that the suits would
go for an unknown composer whose best friend shared
an office with the novelist's wife. In my own defense
I'll point out that 1983 was looking to be a banner
year for me. There was talk of a recording of some
of my vocal music; performances of my music were abounding,
especially the works freshest from my pen; I even
got a commission to write an opera, and started working
closely with my librettist.
did not know that the circumstances that combined
that year constituted a fluke. I thought that this
was what my future would be like, but actually I have
never had a year anything like that since. So between
the fact that I seemed to be becoming a force to be
reckoned with, and fear that I might be too busy or
just creatively spent to do the film score justice
when the contract arrived, I went ahead with my underscoring
project. That's what I told myself at the time, anyway.
In retrospect, I was probably bent as well on communing
artistically with the author. OneWith, as the novel's
third person narrator calls it, when characters communicate
telepathically and prevail against all odds.
was practical enough to write in short score, until
such time as the performing forces I would be using
were contractually stipulated. Soon, though, things
started to unravel. Until this writing, I have never
admitted that each one of my works from opus 43 to
opus 47 contains at least one motif that was under
consideration for the Radix project. (Opus 42, on
the other hand, involved material indigenous to a
documentary film, which was indeed released, although
only as a short.) By the end of the 1983 "banner
year," reality had set in: there would be no
Radix cartoon, with music by me or anybody else. I
decided to use the remaining materials in another
work, which I somehow convinced myself would be free
as well. I guess it was my having dipped into the
Radix storage vault for all those other, independent
works that encouraged me to think in such terms about
the present work as well. This sophistry, combined
with the embarrassment I felt in having performed
so much labor peremptorily to no avail, persuaded
me to leave any reference to the novel out of the
picture until now. The fact is that the music that
remained in the foundry, after all those incursions
I made upon it for works from 1982 and 1983, did so
because the music was associated in my mind so very
closely with scenes and characters out of Attanasio's
novel. Everything else, music which suggested itself
only tangentially, had by this juncture been used
up in one way or another.
good thing about my self deception that I was embarking
upon free composition is that it allowed me to "free"
associate in a manner I might not have done otherwise.
I noticed, for example, that the breathless music
in 5/8 I wrote for the opening chase, in which the
teen-aged Sumner Kagan lures the Nothung gang to their
acidic end, had something in common with the static
music for the slow trek Ardent Fang and the seer Drift
make through the desert to consult their avatar Bonescrolls.
The former music consists of relentless, quick eighth
notes; the latter, relentless, sustained quarters.
I decided to try combining the two in a new kind of
perpetual motion in which the two impulses alternate
meaningfully. All the transitions are abrupt and unexpected,
except one in which the desert music quarter accelerates
into the chase eighth, where however the Nothung theme
is presented in inverted form as the subject for a
furious fugato. Thus was a link forged convincingly
between two such disparate musics. So, the present
music would never have appeared in any film in its
current form (timeloose, it would be called in the
novel, actually). Only post production synthesis and
development would have made such a juxtaposition possible
or even sensible.
DISTORTS. But now I realize, Ardent, Drift, Bonescrolls,
the members of the Nothung gang, are all distorts,
severe genetic mutations caused by the breakdown of
the Earth's magnetic field. I also see now that I
allowed whole tone harmony, inflected by melodic chromaticism,
to impel both speeds of music. In the movement's one
brief patch of repose, the viola intones a motive
limited to three successive notes. These are all a
whole tone apart, suspending tension on one hand,
but also any sense of tonal centrality on the other.
GODMINDS. I always realized that this music was about
the two godminds Assia and Jac, who take centuries
to come to cosmic consciousness while unfortunately
the world they are transcending is, unbeknownst to
them, in chaos. But their development ends up being
necessary after all, since their refined techniques
prove to be instrumental in saving the world at novel's
end. The melody in tenths between violin and 'cello
I associate with Assia; the later piano or viola solo
is Jac. A third theme combines crudely with Jac's
one, but that happened only in post production, so
I can only suppose that Nobu's influence is being
felt here. Against the Assia theme, the piano plays
bare fourths. This interval is also prominent in Jac's
melody. Later these thematic fourths are developed
into a representation of what the book calls "going
vertical": using cosmic passageways to more rarefied
realms of being.
VOORS. A restless motive wavers between the tonalities
B and C, the way these alien, timeloose beings are
here and yet not quite here. The tribal distorts are
often timeloose as well, and the connection is underscored
as we re-encounter the whole tones (B, C-sharp and
D-sharp) we heard back in the first movement's viola
solo. These are the first three scale degrees of B
major, which is trying to establish itself against
the C major tonality that is vying with it for primacy.
But the vortex of this struggle moves the music up
one more whole step, to F (or E-sharp, if you must),
thus obliterating any sense of tonal stability (or
repose, as I put it above); the pitch attained does
not relate centrally to either of the struggling keys.
After a confused pause, violent ostinato gestures
underscore Corby's implacable determination to destroy
the force that has been systematically oppressing
his brood, the voors. That force is known as the Delph,
who is, truth to tell, not particularly evolved as
godminds go. But Corby, the "killing voor,"
has a beautiful and serene mother Jeanlu, aptly depicted
in the movement's contrasting trio over tranquil,
grounding open fifth drones by the cello. A little
melodic dollop, heard only in the half cadence of
this formal section, is later sped up to launch the
movement's pointedly stabilizing coda. Here the elusive
B tonality is squarely tacked down with fourteen reiterations
of the tonic pitch.
ETH. In the novel's last few pages, our hero Sumner
Kagan retreats into himself, after fulfilling his
destiny as eth by destroying the artificial (but deadly)
intelligence Rubeus, quite the last trace of the Delph's
influence in human affairs. Sumner fashions a voor
musical instrument out of nearby natural materials,
and discovers his latent improvisatory voice. The
first work he inscribes is the right hand primo part,
in five finger position mind you, of the Berceuse
from my opus 9 Suite for piano, four hands. (This
was the novelist's choice, appearing in a reproduction
of my hand on page 445.) I naturally adapted this
tender number as part of my original short score notes,
but I have suppressed this arrangement until now.
is Latin for root, and the novel emphasizes mankind's
rootedness in the earth, in the bloodline, and in
unconscious racial experience. As many times as I
have reread the book over the past two decades, I
seem to have missed its most essential point. The
music here (except of course for the Berceuse) represented
a final distillation of motives wrought directly from
the experience of Attanasio's inner world. It needs
its origins to be acknowledged, something I was heretofore
too embarrassed and proud to do, masking of course
sadness and resentment that the composition would
never perform its originally intended function. Sigh.
recently had a look at the Berceuse amplification
in my yellowing manuscript. I began to hear the music
in a genre unrepresented in my œuvre until now,
piano quartet. Admittedly, I might have been influenced
by the fact that opus 42 is for flute and string trio,
and that my opus 27 string trio was recently recorded
expertly by Russian musicians. I had tried the other
music (the present movements 1 through 3) in different
genres over the years, but was never satisfied with
the result. The music is in fact my only unperformed
work from around that time, primarily because I never
formally released it. By adapting now all four movements
for piano and string trio, I release it in the way
master Bonescrolls would charge me to do. So that
it will release me in turn.
was no question of adapting the program note sketches
I had made when misrepresenting this as absolute music
all those years. I just reread them and was aghast.
It was the only time I ever indulged in the "this
happens and then this happens" species of what
passes for musical scholarship. I did like one line
though, concerning what I now acknowledge as my voors
music: we are on the same journey, but have abruptly
turned a corner. My sense of the novelist's coinage
"pleroma music" is that we are talking about
a classy (and possibly medicinally salubrious) variety
of Muzak. Be that as it may, I can't resist using
the term for my current restoration project. Acknowledging
my "roots," I dig right into the core!
music has always been dedicated to the lifelong friend
I met in 1983, Walter Paul.
Frost 3 VI 04 New York, New York