Immutable Distance

Composed by: Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh

Commissioned by Los Angeles Electric 8.
“Immutable Distance” (2013) is the third in a group of related pieces for ensembles of like instruments. The first of these pieces was “the difference between one and two”, for 33 violins, and the second was a nearly hour-long microtonal piano duo, “Imperfect Distance”. The pieces are quite diverse, but the unifying thread between the three is a direct link in the music between the tunings and the rhythms. For instance, if two instruments are playing an interval together of 7 to 9, then one of them will have 7 impulses in the space that the other has 9.
What this leads to in a larger context (a chord of 5/6/9/10/11, for example), is that the intervals which are more consonant with each other (6 to 9, and 5 to 10) will sound together more frequently so that a sense of harmonic motion emerges from a texture that would at first appear to be random and somewhat chaotic. Also, there is generally a sort of harmonic counterpoint at work, with the ensemble divided into two or three changing and interlocking groups that follow lines of harmony that push and pull against each other in cycles, often ending up back where they started.
Another common thread between these works is that as I write I don’t feel like I am inventing the music so much as discovering these lovely geometric sonorities and then attempting to find the most sonically interesting way to share them. There is definitely still a large element of choice and of human imperfection (something that I find endlessly fascinating), but somehow I always feel that every single choice I make in these pieces appeals to an outside logic, rather than an internal desire. I try to interfere as little as possible with the natural order and flow of the music. In “Immutable Distance” that led to this wonderfully persistent G as the highest voice, never changing. I would never have arrived at the decision to do that for so long had I been composing simply using intuition. Everything that happens underneath the G undergoes various transformations, but in the end the G always remains the same. It’s a bit like how in a wave at the ocean, the various parts of the wave are crashing and bubbling wildly, but the overall structure of the wave is very simple and consistent.
I don’t always write this strictly, but when I do write this way I find a very liberating beauty in the simplicity of letting a structure unfold as it wants to rather than dramatizing it or pushing it in “artistic” directions. The patterns and principles already at work in nature are awe-inspiring enough without my silly hand trying to manipulate them. Sometimes I come to the end of a piece like this one and think about all of the various sounds and techniques that I could have explored, but I suppose that’s what the next composition is there for. - Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh