Reconstructing Apoptosis

sop, cl, perc, va, vc

Recorded and mastered by Stephen Bailey, January 2016
Performed by Nebula Ensemble
Artwork by Katie Caron and Martha Russo, underwritten by the Denver Art Museum. Photos by Jeff Wells.

Reconstructing Apoptosis was inspired by a massive art installation called apoptosis created by artists Katie Caron and Martha Russo and underwritten by the Denver Art Museum. Named for the biological process of cell death that paves the way for new growth, apoptosis graced a 30-foot wall in the DAM in 2010 and 2011 and captivated many DAM visitors. Aside from its enormous size and complexity, Caron and Russo’s installation had three main characteristics that I wanted to “reconstruct” or represent musically in my work. First, I was fascinated by the intricate components, rough textures, and duller colors of certain forms that tended to cluster on the lower part of the installation, somewhat suggestive of mollusks or other shelled animals. I asked myself what apoptosis would sound like if these parts were alive and able to move of their own volition, or what they would sound like if they comprised a musical instrument that could be played. Sections of unpitched scrambling percussive sounds evoke this aspect of the work. Second, I was drawn to the suspended, glowing forms that crown the work. In an effort to capture these, I crafted luminous, pulsating harmonic areas whose pitch content to my mind echoes the colors present in this portion of the installation. The third aspect of the work that interested me was the integration of power lines and the artists’ references to “energy” as one of the thematic aspects of the work. In response to the idea of power lines/energy weaving through the whole, I composed a repetitive, rhythmically driving melody that contrasts with the luminous harmonic areas and the scrambling percussive areas. These three types of music interact across large stretches of time and frequently interrupt one another, resulting in a landscape-like structure with smooth harmonic plateaus, steep inclines, rough crevices inhabited by semi-animate creatures, and a network of energized lines traversing the topography.

– Sarah Perske


A most
A most
A most
A most
A most generous
A most
A most
A most generous death [of individual cells] cells
Self [a self-activated process] will come to life
A most awkward growth [and in the growth of tumors] of beauty and lightness.
A most tangled glow [of the nucleus and cytoplasm] of energy and chaos
Of grace and gravity
A most dangerous tension of membranes and electric lines
A most complex organism of parasitic x-ray screens
A most wondrous space of concealment and unfolding
A most dangerous tension of suspended, leaden levity
A most awkward growth
Self will come to life, even in the slaying of self [a self-activated process].
Con-fusion and conflict,
[The piece seems to have two contrasting elements: water and fire]
[The beams of wood make me think either of a cross or driftwood]
[The whole piece seems very grotesque to me, in a very organic way]
[Sorry, that’s a horrible analysis, but those are my impressions]
Living cells versus inanimate objects
[One of the first things it made me think of was the ocean, where things such as ships get covered in barnacles and other sea life]
[My next thought was that it looked very cellular]
[like I was looking inside some alien creature where all those little parts are cells]
[and then the light is kind of the heart/heartbeat]
Disorienting luminosity
Self [a self-activated process] will come to life
Even in the slaying of self [a self-activated process],
But something truer and deeper than it
Will emerge at last.
A most generous death [of individual cells]
A most generous
A most
Text: Katie Caron and Martha Russo, George MacDonald, Sarah Perske, Kyle Hughes, Phillip Strom, and the Oxford English Dictionary. Compiled by Sarah Perske.

Performers: Kornel Thomas (conductor), Emily Gradowski (soprano), Phillip Strom (clarinet), Kyle Hughes (percussion), Andrew Grishaw (viola), Joe Engel (cello)