Scattering (2022)

for orchestra, TOSHI conductor interface, and live electronics

Scattering is a symphonic overture about the connectedness of things. Its title is inspired by William Meredith’s beautiful poem, “Examples of Created Systems,” which sits on our living room bookshelf. I have often reflected on the complicated logic behind the poem’s central concept: the perceived systems—of stars, islands, prisons, relationships—whose “fair scattering of matter” guides our always imperfect understanding of the world. Who made these systems, and then “flung them there,” Meredith asks, “in a sowing motion suggesting that random is beautiful?”

That existential question informs the composition at many levels. The first is performance. The gesture of sowing or scattering is implied in conducting, the system of signs a conductor creates to evoke sound. To harness that unique gestural energy, I built a custom instrument for the conductor’s left hand that tracks movement, direction, and acceleration. I call the instrument TOSHI (The Orchestra-Synthesis Human Interface), in honor of ECSO’s dynamic conductor, Toshi Shimada. At critical points in the exposition, Toshi’s gestures produce a scattering of live electronic sounds that both comment on the orchestra and foretell what is to come.

The question of connections also informs the score. Scattering was conceived as the novel coronavirus became a global pandemic and as the killing of George Floyd gave rise to a world outcry against racial injustice—both circumstances showing us, with differing intensities, the connectedness of humanity across time and space. My piece alludes to these historic events in two musical subjects that derive like cryptograms from their names: “COVID – 19” translates into one pitch set, and “George Floyd” into another. Together they provide the overture’s melodic material. What’s in a name? On the one hand, the wild energy of contagion; on the other, sorrow, loss, and longing. The deeper connection between them is revealed as the piece concludes in a double canon — a fair scattering of musical matter that represents one of music’s oldest created systems.