The Kennedy Center

Time Machines

About the Work

Sebastian Currier Composer: Sebastian Currier
© Peter Laki

The composer has provided the following note on Time Machines:


Time Machines is a seven-movement concerto for violin and orchestra, written for and dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter. Each of the seven movements explores some aspect of the relationship between the perception of music and time.

In the first movement, fragmented time, the solo violin holds together diverse short, abrupt, and incongruous fragments drawn from later movements. In this way the movement is also about future time, as it allows for brief glimpses of material heard in the rest of the piece. In delay time, the second movement, with the exception of three held chords, the entire fabric of orchestral textures is nothing but a reverberation, a resonance, of the violin's lyrical line: not a note sounds that wasn't first formulated in the violin before its "delayed" representation is reflected in the orchestra. The violin seems to propel everything forward at a frenzied, fast pace in the third movement, compressed time, which ends as abruptly as it begins. In the fourth movement, overlapping time, passages of contrasting character, and rhythmic and metric structure, constantly cross paths, so that as one passage gradually fades into nothingness another is heard gradually coming into the foreground. Entropy, the principle that ordered systems move towards greater disorder, and which defines the forward moving aspect of time, is the basis for the musical rhetoric in the fifth movement, entropic time. This movement begins with a sharply chiseled motive presented in an orchestral unison. From this point on, this ordered presentation gives way to more chaotic elements, as the theme itself is gradually dissembled. In backwards time, the sixth movement, the flow of time is momentarily reversed. Both the musical rhetoric and aspects of instrumental acoustics run "backwards" while brief flashes of previous movements mysteriously float by. In this way, it forms a relation to the first movement: where at the beginning there a glimpses of future time, here there are now glimpses of time past. In harmonic time, the final movement, the violin presents a long cantabile line amidst a varied harmonic landscape.

It's only a little bit of an exaggeration to say that music is made of nothing but time-well, and air too. Clearly the form of a piece is how it unfolds in time. On a smaller scale, melodic or rhythmic gestures are made of a series of events moving forward in time. Even pitch is a product of time: a pitch is created form a periodic oscillation, the less the time of each oscillation, the higher the pitch. This extends to timbre as well, since the tone color of an instrument is dependent on its overtones and overtones are simply vibration patterns that create pitches above the fundamental tone at a variety of time proportions. And the rest is air. A musician bows a string, blows air in a cylinder, strikes a metal object, and a series sound waves take that information to our ears, the intensity of those waves affecting the relative amplitude. It has always been fascinating to me that an art form that is so penetrating, that seems to be able to inhabit a place inside one, is made of such ephemeral stuff.