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Project 440

Ethan Wickman

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Angles of Repose

Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble

Angles of Repose draws its title from the Wallace Stegner novel of that name about an itinerant mining engineer and his family as they struggle to prosper in the American West. In Stegner’s work, the title refers simultaneously to the angle at which granular materials achieve stability on a slope (picture the angle at which rocks no longer slide off a mountain), and the forces of fortune and consequence that ultimately shape the lives of its protagonists. I have become increasingly interested in the way that physical forces create analogs for social, emotional, interpersonal, and even musical ones.  While my piece does not pictorially narrate the physical phenomenon, it aspires to translate the interplay of these forces into musical ones.

The first movement, “Angle of Displacement”, contrasts moments of syncopation and rhythmic surprise with metric predictability—the net unpredictability being amplified by moments of rhythmic stasis.

“Forlorn Angles” is entirely devoid of the kind of syncopation and rhythmic angularity found in the first movement. It instead labors toward unpredictability as the players are often left to improvise their parts, all the while exploring more obscure instrumental colors.

 Finally, “Angle of Accleration” is a study in speed and changing tempi.  It earns its title from the final push of inertia in the movement, ultimately resulting in a kind of self-destruction.


Performed by the Avalon String Quartet

The expression “namasté” represents the hope that two people with distinct histories and experiences can find peace and reconciliation by recognizing the sacred and humane within the other. Titles from each movement are drawn partly from stories featured in the Vedas, a body of ancient and sacred Sanskrit texts.  The first movement, “Kingdom of Sorrows,” tells the story of a wealthy merchant and a king who are respectively forsaken and left destitute by their families and ministers. In search of enlightenment, they seek the advice of a sage so that they might learn to detach themselves from worldly possessions. 

The second movement depicts the destruction of evil by Vishnu, the Hindu Supreme Being. According to the Vedas, two demons form from the earwax of Vishnu while he sleeps. Awakened by the Devi (the female aspect of the divine) Vishnu destroys the demons.

 The Incarnation of the Divine,” refers in part to the incarnation of the Devi as she protects the faithful from the demons, and in part to the meaning of namasté. A lush exploration of the string quartet, much of the movement is built around a conversation between different combinations of the instruments.

“Time, Matter, Light…Prana” evokes some of the visceral elements of meditation. This movement portrays a narrative of textures and colors, interspersed throughout with a descending syncopated chordal motive. The latter idea represents a diminution of the opening figure in the cello in the first movement—a figure that signifies “prana,” or an ever-present life force.

“Exhilaration; Reconciliation” reveals a kind of ecstasy achieved throughout the spiritual journey of the work.  Musical materials associated with sorrow and joy are reconciled, yielding a new understanding.

Namasté is commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University.