Even the Light Itself Falls
Ensemble et cetera perform Scott Worthington’s 2012 composition “Even the Light Itself Falls”, with the composer on double bass, Curt Miller on clarinet, and Dustin Donahue on percussion. According to the liner notes, the piece was inspired by experiences such as driving, mountain top views, and being beside the Pacific Ocean that in themselves are “not particularly active or exciting”, but nonetheless “bring about a mental space that includes both reflection and a sense of wonder”. The title comes from a meditation by philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy on a painting by Caravaggio depicting the death of the Virgin Mary, though Worthington clarifies that it was the poetry of the phrase in itself, rather than the subject matter of Nancy’s essay, that struck him most.
The piece lasts for nearly an hour and a half, beginning high in the upper registers of the three instruments and drifting down in ever-decreasing spirals into the lower octaves. There are flutters and scatterings of melodic fragments, repeated again and again, tentative and precarious. On first listen, I was concerned by an apparent striving towards a politically suspect transcendence (suspect, because only a privileged few are able to transcend their social and economic situation). However, a different reading soon emerged: the threadbare arrangement of a handful of musical sticks and stones gave the impression of a certain poverty of means that was imposed rather than chosen, as if this barely present flickering was all that could be mustered — as if this were not an age in which the grand gesture remains an available aesthetic option. This second interpretation is perhaps more influenced by the current context than by the intentions of the composer.
The structure of the piece is smooth in the sense that changes happen very gradually, without much in the way of variation, and with only a couple of brief homophonic interludes functioning as waymarkers. This actually works well given the length of the work: drifting in and out of concentration seems permitted, even encouraged. The way notes and simple chords are left hanging or die away to nothing is very effective at creating a sense of concrete space, inviting a dwelling within the music rather than rushing on to the next destination. Stripping away to almost nothing also deflates the incessant drive to accumulate more. Slightness and bareness become principles that establish a lightweight, open structure, one that doesn’t crush or constrict. Today, creating spaces that are inhabitable within a collapsing landscape is perhaps one of art’s primary tasks; with “Even the Light Itself Falls”, Worthington and Ensemble et cetera sketch out a model of what this might look and sound like.
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Photo by Micki Davis