Light is both a particle and a wave


chamber ensemble of 7 players
Mixed Chamber Ensemble
Instrumentation in A - pno - 2 vln.vla.vlc
Commissioned for the Australia Ensemble by Justice Jane Mathews
First Performance
23.10.2010, Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia: Australia Ensemble

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Programme Notes
One of the joys of living in the twenty-first century is the apparently endless explosion in technological and scientific achievement. It seems that hardly a week goes past without some amazing discovery being announced, be it a promising cure for a disease, a new piece of software or hardware that can do amazing things, or even new planets around a distant star that are believed to be conducive to carbon-based life. Even better is that, thanks to the internet, ordinary people (such as myself) can learn about these innovations in next to no time. The pace of change, or perhaps the pace of hearing about such change, is continually increasing. As a starting point for this piece, I have used some common features around the properties of light that have been discovered or proposed over the past 100 years. Then I have developed these ideas within a concept of ‘place’ in our history (or imagined history, in the case of the second movement.) The first movement of this piece explores two main ideas. First, it is intended to be firmly placed in the present, representing forceful explorations that are currently being undertaken in the technological realm. We live in a competitive society in which the desire to be the first (and the best) may be rough, competitive and dirty. In the case of scientific discovery, it is a good thing to prove someone else wrong, which seems harsh and unforgiving and yet which has led to tremendous achievement and discovery. The second idea is based on the dual properties of light, and indeed all matter, as intimated by the title. Musically speaking, I have sought to portray the smallest particles (photons, which have no mass) by which we are surrounded every day, and which continually move in straight or maybe curved lines from one point to another. Light is also a wave, and the entire basis for which notes are used in this movement comes from the construction of a ‘pitch wave’. Waves are also evident in the gestures and dynamics used in this movement. The second movement is intended as a contrast to the rough, violent, turbulent first movement. It came from a consideration of where, perhaps, the human race may be in its development in 1000, 10000, 1 million years (if we do not annihilate ourselves in the meantime). Many science fiction stories posit a future in which time will no longer be a significant part of our existence thanks to the intervention of technology. In such a scenario taking a long trip across interstellar space, close to the speed of light, will be conceptually and physically unproblematic. With regards to light, one of the outcomes of Einstein’s theory of special relativity is that the closer to the speed of light one travels, the slower time passes (relative to a ‘stationary’ observer). So even though we may be travelling exceedingly quickly, in relation to someone else, we are acting very slowly indeed. The musical material for these two movements is linked - because getting to the ideas in the second movement depends on successfully completing those of the first movement. And no matter whether we exist in the present or the future, there will always be light as a constant.

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