What Will Sound (was already sound) is in large part an homage to the artist William Kentridge. Specifically, the piece takes up formal ideas of his work What Will Come (has already come), in which revolving, anamorphic charcoal animations evoke episodes from Africa’s colonial history. In this work, Kentridge’s anamorphic strategy involves projecting charcoal-based animations down onto a white circle, which supports a cylindrical mirror in the center. These figures are distorted beyond recognition, but the reflective convex surface of the cylinder adjusts the angles and proportions, so that familiar images can be seen—of a fly, a plane, of an elephant wearing a gas mask.
Kentridge creates a sort of paradox whereby the viewer, in order to recognize the image, must look for its reconfiguration in the curved mirror, crouching or stepping backward to find the intended viewpoint with respect to the cylinder. One has to take in the work, eyes flitting back and forth between the distorted charcoal drawings and their reflections, in a kind of perceptual dance between two contrasting perspectives. (For Kentridge, I think, this idea of “double vision” or “looking askance” comes out his life as a South African, with that country’s particular history).
Though I had Kentridge in mind, as a touch stone, while I was working on it, the actual impetus for the piece was hearing a performance of Bach’s Violin Partita in D minor (by a friend, Luke Fitzpatrick). While listening, I felt my attention traveling between a gestural surface, of bow across strings (happening in the foreground/present) and a harmonic aura (in the background, from history). It was a dynamic, spatial experience, and it set me up to resonate with Kentridge’s animation.
What Will Sound (was already sound) sets up the live electronic component to act in a manner analogous to Kentridge’s cylindrical mirror. Through its series of convolution filters—derived from Luke’s recording of the D minor violin partita—the electronics extract certain periodic components from the gestures of the live violin, building harmonic resonances apart from, yet dependent upon, the live violin material, and creating an oscillating motion between the immediate moment of live performance and a secondary plane of historical resonance.
– Jeffrey Bowen
Jeffrey Bowen is a composer and guitarist currently living in Seattle, Washington. His compositions feature gradually evolving processes and explorations of liminal spaces, and have been performed by Pascal Gallois, Maja Cerar, Beta Collide, Ensemble DissonArt, and the Luminosity Orchestra, among other ensembles in the USA and Europe.
In 2013 his orchestral work Stalasso was chosen by conductor Ludovic Morlot for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Works program, and he has recently presented work at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music, the University of Nebraska’s New Music Festival, the University of Washington’s Harry Partch Festival, the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, the International Computer Music Conference, and as a resident artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In 2019 he received a Jack Straw Artist Support Grant to record his piece for the Harry Partch Instruments, Where All That’s Solid Melts Into Air.
Bowen is a co-director of Seattle’s Inverted Space Ensemble, which commissions and programs new works alongside adventurous and innovative music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and which has held residencies at Cornish College of the Arts and the University of Washington. He currently teaches music theory and guitar at Seattle University, and recently completed a DMA in composition at the University of Washington under Joël-François Durand.