Trombonist and composer Aidan Sibley is one of our guest composers for Starry Night, coming up this Sat, Feb 7th. Aidan took a minute to tell us about his piece Solipsism, exploring the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. Well, that’s one way to grapple with understanding universe!
The central idea behind my piece, Solipsism, was to take an epistemological view of the universe, or to explore the universe through the lens of perspective. To accomplish this, I wanted to have an over-arching theme that connected everything, but was ultimately fragmented and obscured by each of the instruments.
The idea was basically to have the ‘theme’ represent the metaphysical universe, while each instrument represented a different distinct viewpoint and perspective of the theme/ universe.
Before I began writing the composition itself, I wrote the theme separately on piano. The melody itself is constructed with pairs of major 7th intervals arpeggiating upwards repeatedly, while the top note falls, leading to new harmonic centres. The motif is melodically rising, but harmonically falling.
Following the completion of the theme itself, I did not write for several days, instead I just worked out the structure of the final composition in my head, and all the places I wanted to go with it.
With the instrumentation being one violin, one bass and two trumpets and trombones, the theme was effectively impossible to play on any single instrument due to its extreme angular verticality, which wound up actually becoming a blessing. As I initially stated, I wanted to have the theme permeate everything, but also never be given a 100 percent clear view. I wanted it to be broken an obscured, and with the instrumental restrictions, I was forced to do just that.
The way I constructed the piece, I wanted every part of the composition to reference the theme (with one exception). The theme is never retrograded or inverted (or even transposed), so all the references are pretty literal. With this taken into account, the struggle was to not have the piece be incredibly monotonous, so I had use other tools to avoid this. I frequently used melodic augmentation, diminution and displacement, but what I focused the most on was the flow of dissonance and consonance as well as density.
Only writing this now, have I realized that the piece is really a theme and variation composition, but since the theme is unwritten, it is more a variation and variation composition.
There are 5 variations present (with the final variation actually being 2 cycles of the theme) plus transitional material. The first four sections basically break down as Consonant->Dissonant-> Consonant->Dissonant. The third variation is as close as the piece ever gets to playing the unobscured theme (and is also when the piece is at its most consonant). The fifth variation (which as stated is twice as long as the other variations) is structured differently than the others, starting out with only one instrument playing and slowly adding instruments in one by one (similar in execution but not sound to Moanin’ by Charles Mingus), thus this section ranges from minimum to maximum density.
Back to the conceptual side of the composition, I wanted to use a lot of unisons (once again at risk of monotony). Part of the whole conceptual basis of this composition is how two people can look at the exact same thing and take away completely different things from it.
One person can look at a photograph of the stars, and recognizing the incomprehensible scale and nature of being of it, take it a sign that a God must exist, whereas another person could look at the same image, and recognizing all of the observable scientific systems in place could take it as sign that a God doesn’t exist.
The same stimuli can in fact evoke completely opposite reactions from two different perspectives. And on smaller scale, through the lens of perspective, the same stimuli can never invoke the exact same meaning or reaction. Based on this assertion, I wanted to use a lot of unisons, but never have them be the same. Throughout the piece I rhythmically displace the unisons, or have one note of the unison ending a phrase and the other beginning the next phrase. The only true unisons I have in the piece are broken up by timbre by having one instrument muted while the other is not.
Earlier, I mentioned that I have one deviation from the theme in the piece.
As I was composing, I inserted a two-bar Easter egg that fits the theme of the concert perfectly. If you want to hear what it is, come to Starry Night on February 7th!
Aidan is a trombonist, composer and teacher based out of Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto’s jazz performance program. Aidan’s musical style has a wide variety of influences including Charles Mingus, William Carn and Kenny Wheeler. He has performed internationally, and can be heard as a side-man in many groups around Toronto including the John Cheesman Jazz Orchestra and Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School.