About the Piece
The Imperfection of Memory was a collaboration between myself, artist Heather Lander and the Maxwell String Quartet. It was commissioned by Enterprise Music Scotland as part of the 10th Anniversary of their Creative Residency series. The piece will be premiered on 19th November 2017 in Glasgow.
The Imperfection of Memory began for me as a piece about Time. Ideas and intentions often change as material emerges and develops, and so as the piece evolved, it focused less on the idea of Time and more on that of Memory.
In particular, I became interested in the inherent plasticity of memory.
For example, the way that some attempts to recall remain perpetually just beyond our grasp - we can almost touch or even taste them; we know the flavour of them, but we are unable to bring to mind any detail no matter how hard we try. Faces can seem familiar but with no recollection whatsoever from where they were previously encountered, no matter how much we turn them over in our head. Numbers, names, lyrics or tunes can remain forever just outwith our reach.
Conversely, sometimes the tiniest of details seem almost to be carved in granite within our minds, like a monument to an inconsequential detail of our past, permanently erected in the vast museum of our other recollections, many of which we have no idea why they remain so steadfast.
Our memory seems never to conform to our own sense of priorities. It doesn’t submit to what we consider important and what is not.
Working with artist Heather Lander and getting to know her work has been a great pleasure, and has offered me further ways to think about my own practice. Specifically, there were a number of parallels I felt able to draw between aspects of Heather’s work and my own and which informed my approach to the writing. To outline three in particular:
I was very drawn to the way that the light in her work seems to glimmer and flash across the eye directly. The very fleeting, ethereal nature of these glints and flares yet the physical response they prompt in the eye resonated with my thoughts about the elusive, intangible aspects of our memory - those recollections we can't quite grasp. The first section of the music is an ambiguous texture predominantly played in high-pitched harmonics. Repeating patterns never quite repeat exactly, and there's little in the way of definitive pulse, nor prominent melodic lines or ideas that emerge from it.
The multi-layered effect of Heather's work that comes from an image or shape being repeated as it refracts, in varying brightness and clarity is something I find quite compelling, and I have tried to take a not dissimilar approach through the use of processed and delayed samples of the quartet coming from further back in the space.
Finally, the tendency of the light to extend its reach right across the walls, floor and ceiling places the viewer right inside Heather's work. As a composer, I often tend to view musical structure as the creation of a series of interiors or spaces through which the listener will pass. And so in writing this music I saw part of my role as creating the sonic character of the space Heather's work creates.