The picture you saw while clicking on this article is by digital artist and long-time deviantART user tigaer – I will post something about his work in a second.
Meanwhile I want to muse about what visions like these symbolise for me. I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction, but I started to read science because of it and in it’s best moments, it has the possibilty to change the world, like all great art. It just has to be plausible to inspire those people who really change the world by their work and research. You know the old stories like there were flying machines with Jules Vernes, CD-shaped things in the books by Stanislas Lem, the Robots of Lem, Capek and Asimov.
Today, most young artists bothered with science fiction and even mainstream stuff like Avatar or Mass Effect seems to draw a fascinating picture of the future, that one would actually like to live in. Sure, there are the old clichés of what would happen, when we meet another intelligence or “technology will eventually kill us” but there is more. Recent digital arts create an aesthetic of the future, that makes these vision seem enjoyable. The use of blue, the picture of wide-ranging knowledge, wise tolerance and coexistence of all kinds of possible human characters, architecture and design playing with the power of geometric forms, after known psychological rules of what we find beautiful.
Over time, I developped a single image in my brain, a feature public square, I’m standing there, in a fantastic environment, everything is perfectly designed to make the inhabitants and me feel good, everything is light, clear, logical, I can breath the sentiment of freedom and possibilities. I feel proud, as this is the achievement of me, the human race, or what we created, proud to be human and proud to have participated in this evolution.
Now I write a piece of music about the discovery of Uranus by William Herschel 1791 and I can think of only one possibility to express the very moment, in which he realized, that this point of light is no comet, but actually a planet and at this distance a big one. Later, as Herschel discovers two moons of this planet, he sits back and projects himself onto it’s surface, experiencing in his fantasy the rise of big blue Uranus above his new worlds horizon. There is only one possibility: a huge, orchestral chord, spanning nearly the whole tonal range of the piano. Why?
I think we experience music like space. There are certain normalities for us, like being nearly two meters above the ground, hearing the lower registers of our voice, if not in any excited emotional state. Seeing other important things of approximately the same size as we. We begin on smaller levels, rise, our frequences fluctuate and eventually, they vanish into a low, long nothing. In music this is represented by the middle registers, those, where the 4 voice registers can sing. But there are big things, that inspire awe and a sense of smallness, of being a part of something huge, unchangeable, inevitable. Look at the sea, a mountain, the milky way – your eyes will strive into the distance, often you will look up and stand there, puzzled. In music this happens as well, when something happens high above the registers of normality, in the third, fourth, fifth octave. We sing in our middle ranges, but we can hear the music of greater things simultaneously – string harmonics, high violins, oboes, clarinetts, flutes. And then of course, it is equally impressive, if also giving a more pronounced sentiment of danger, when we stand on a high cliff, a waterfall, at the edge of a flatly percieved world, on a small satellite somewhere in the middle of more than 14 billion light years, possibly alone. We hear this as well, as the orchestra sings far below us, loud and self-consciously. Lastly, big things move slow for us, as we must be far away to measure their motion. Uranus rotates into our field of view calm like a giant, like nothing could disturb him. The chord has to be long, pronounced, we need instruments who can carry the tension over many inhales.
That’s why an orchestral chord is the only possibilty to express the awe before a giant universe, breathing freedom and axiety at once.
Such a chord is of course no new invention in orchestral music. It has been used often, but not with this perspective. Mozart uses it in Don Giovanni to paint the judgement by the hellish, dead Commander. Gluck lets his Orpheus face the furies, which deny behind an impenetreble wall of deep trombones to grant him the wish to see his dead wife again. Philipp glass has such a moment in the first movement of his cello concerto and the latest Mass Effect used this effect to complete the nightmare of despair, that torments commander Shephard up to his death. But you can choose the colours and scope of such a chord, and you can use it to draw constructive awe and modesty of a great mind, making a great step for humanity.