“Plumage” is a word that evokes beauty and brilliance, the exotic or the mysterious—flocks of brightly colored wild birds perhaps or the pageantry of Venetian masks. For French composer Olivier Messiaen, a flutter of feathers and avian song famously symbolized freedom and a spiritual transcendence in the face of the existential abyss of time. In Plumage, I envision a very different sort of creature. The feathers are wet, filthy, and matted; the pageantry is just a memory. Beneath the fluttering exterior is broken and frightened creature whose existence is as ephemeral as its crests and plumes.
Beginning with the performance instruction “at the edge of sounding,” Plumage explores a world of halting, intermittent sounds. Instruments are blown with a fraction of the air normally required; bows skid and skim across strings. The results are delicate and unpredictable. Throughout Plumage, the instruments of the ensemble strain to fulfill the soaring expressive melodies for which they were developed, yet just as expressive melodies emerge they are torn away and scatter in among glacial fields or noise and slowly transforming timbre.
Ultimately, we are like the humble creature, scared and alone, searching for a lost pageantry. The vast majority of our lives exist only in our memory. We live among hollow shades and lost forever is the vibrancy those experiences once held for us.