The Crutch of Memory (2004)
for
indeterminate solo string instrument

The Crutch of Memory continues my long-standing interest in prioritizing and foregrounding the physical, choreographic elements of musical performance. As in a number of my recent works, here it is physical states, the interface between the body of the player and the body of the instrument, and physical gestures that drive the sonic surface. I am interested in the ability of these corporeal actions to be present as musical material in their own right and not simply as means to an aural end. As such, the notation employs a detailed, multi-layered tablature that independently controls the movement up and down the fingerboard, the spacing width of the fingers, the contact between fingers and strings, as well as the actions of the bow and right hand. And of course, because it is physical movement that is prescribed, the piece can be performed on a variety of string instruments (any bowed, non-fretted instrument with at least four adjacent strings) and with a variety of scordature (which may be chosen by the performer based on a series of guidelines given in the score).

I have long been interested in generating sonic relationships through physical action, as have, of course, a number of predecessors and colleagues. However, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the tendency of these composers (myself included!) to initially generate material through physical, choreographic systems but then, in essence, erase (or at least conceal) these structures in the notation (which, in the end, still seems to prioritize pitch as a primary parameter). In this work, I have endeavored to strip away the pretense of pitch in an effort to more directly prioritize the performative actions in the notation.

The piece is also of course about memory, about memories, about loops and cycles, about entropy and accumulation, and about loss. The title comes from a line in Jonathan Franzen’s beautiful essay, “My Father’s Brain,” which discusses the neurological physicality of memory, memory loss, Plato’s discussion of writing in the Phaedrus, writing as a detriment to memory, and family.

The work is dedicated to Carter Williams in thanks for his support, assistance, encouragement, and friendship.