Laughter & Forgetting

For clarinet, viola & vibraphone — 2004 — 7-10 minutes
(variable duration due to improvisation)

Laughter and Forgetting, for clarinet, viola and vibraphone, is a composed structure for improvisation; the score is a single large page which provides melodic ideas, harmonic indications, verbal instructions, and conventionally notated passages through and around which the players improvise. In his novel of the same name, Milan Kundera explores the theme of memory, showing how different characters can experience and remember the same events quite differently; how memories can be consciously or unconsciously altered or manipulated; how new memories reinterpret, distort, mix with or replace old ones; and how the passage of time calls all memory into doubt. The piece enacts these ideas in real time, as a shared set of musical elements is subjected to the interaction of different personalities and the cumulative effects of changing contexts, ending in a kind of “forgetting.” The resulting musical form, like any other, is a direct experience shared between performers and listeners, but it is also an intangible conception of that experience, existing only in our minds, like a memory. Kundera describes laughter as a nonsensical sound that somehow carries the liberating ability to express human joy, but also ridicule and scorn. It can both reinforce social bonds or subvert them, or do both at the same time. Two people laughing, he says, may make the exact same sound but with quite opposite meanings. It occurred to me while reading this that his description of laughter also applies rather well to music.

Speaking of multiple meanings, this composition is a re-working (for a concert in Prague in 2004) of an earlier piece entitled Point No Point, Flood Plus 3. I spent a lot of time sailing when I was growing up, and something about this music made me think of tidal motion and the way conflicting currents affect one another. “Point No Point, Flood Plus 3″ is a place and a time as you might look it up in a chart of tides and currents: a point of land on the Connecticut shore (whose name I happen to like), three hours after the tide begins rising. So here I’ve exposed the arbitrary nature of my program notes with two completely unrelated accounts of the same music — but they both fit, so take your pick. Or feel free to ignore them and let your own reaction be your guide, accepting whatever associations may occur to you as a listener.

(Recorded live at the premiere performance, December 3, 2004 by Moens in Prague: Kamil Doležal, clarinet; Ludmila Sovadinová, viola; Martin Hybler, vibraphone.)

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