Mobile: varied angles for hammered dulcimer and piano

dulc, pf
Performed by Kyle Hughes and Danni Snyder

A few months ago I came across several works by composer Earle Brown that were inspired by the mobile sculptures of visual artist Alexander Calder. Brown translated Calder’s mobile concept into a notation system wherein the performers chose how the pages should be ordered and oriented, producing a different aural result with each performance. As interesting as these works are, I felt that Brown only integrated the mobile concept in terms of the performer’s experience of interpreting the music on the page, while leaving the listener out of the equation. My own Mobile: varied angles for hammered dulcimer and piano takes a different approach to musically exploring the concept of a mobile sculpture. Each of the five movements of my piece offers a different perspective on the notes of a single “pitch field” or massive chord. In many respects, this is merely a reimagining of variation form in which the”theme” is an unordered collection of pitches in fixed registers. The notes of this pitch field function much like the components of one of Calder’s mobiles; they are static parts whose relationship to one another is dynamic, able to unfold in varied combinations and at different rates over a period of time.

I envision this piece as the solitary experience of a viewer who comes upon a mobile made of colorful gemstones and other weird and beautiful objects, hanging high in the air in an otherwise empty room. The first movement (“From the Doorway”) is the viewer’s initial impression of the mobile as their gaze sweeps upward, taking it in. In the second movement (“It catches the light and casts weird shadows”), I imagine the viewer noticing for the first time how light streaming into the room from a window contributes to the subtle alterations of the mobile’s appearance. The third movement (“In circles”) explores what might happen if the mobile were revolving at a very rapid rate, perhaps as a result of wind blowing through an open window. The fourth movement (“The mauve-purple diamond near the pinnacle”) imagines that the mobile has settled into an angle from which the viewer is suddenly struck by the beauty of a particular gemstone, and they experience an impossible desire to keep the mobile forever fixed in this position. “Yawrood eht morf” (“From the doorway” in retrograde) is the viewer’s final glance back at the mobile from the doorway as they leave the room, their perspective now altered by their experiences of the previous four movements.

– Sarah Perske