“Antithesis Reflex” received its premiere on November 7, 2008 as part of the New Music Circle’s 50th anniversary season. The performance took place in Julie Campbell’s Three Sinks Gallery, her original space that had once been a three-sink women’s hair salon in Webster Groves.
This recording was made a month earlier on October 2, 2008. The plan was to avoid retakes and keep everything as spontaneous as a live performance. And that’s what happened: the session that evening lasted 75 minutes. The instrument was Steinway B captured with a pair of AKG 414’s. That’s pretty much all it takes for a great piano sound – no EQ or compression needed.
“Antithesis Reflex” explores abstract and flexible formal structures as applied to improvisation. I am seeking to explore fundamental ideas of structure within the realization of musical content that is spontaneously improvised.
In philosophy, a synthesis is the result of two previously stated positions: a thesis and an antithesis. These two points are not necessarily in opposition but they must be different. The outcome of these two positions is the synthesis. The synthesis is not required to be a compromise between the two positions, although it can be. The synthesis could take any form; it can even be an entirely different result that is not at all suggested by either the thesis or antithesis.
This is a theory of relationships in three parts – a statement, a contrasting statement, and a resulting statement. When I happened upon this philosophical notion in the midst of a Web search one day, it gave some clarity to my years of pursuing the goal of “synthesis” in electronic and computer music, and in the construction of musical frameworks that lead to new perspectives and inspiration.
And my ongoing experiments in musical structure were given a more enlightened focus. Most significantly, thinking this way reinforced the idea that I had already been observing in traditional and primal forms such as the blues and Japanese Haiku poetry. For me, it was a new way of approaching the relationship of three-part forms: statement, statement, conclusion.
This is where the reflex comes in: The previous summer, my wife and I had made the journey to California by car for the first time. When we drove through the Lake Tahoe area, I realized how absurd it would be to recapitulate our journey by returning to Missouri before arriving at our destination in SF, the coda. Clearly, life is linear.
Sonata-allegro-like developments and recapitulations don’t really work in life. So why do we do it in music?
In the blues and Haiku poetry, the relationship is between three parts, one leading to another and concluding with a third. The relationship between the parts can be either complimentary or opposing, or any gradient shading of these opposite relations that the artist can imagine. That is the place where structure provides the occasion for creativity, rather than restricting it. The subtle relationships are where the beauty is and that is what this piece seeks to realize.
"Ocean" cover art by Anna Hegarty