A Map of the Invisible

A Map of the Invisible

I used to think that when scientists talked about ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, they were talking about the same stuff as black holes. Things that were unimaginably distant, that they had no light and were therefore difficult to detect. It was only when I watched online lectures from Fermilab that I understood the name was misleading: these were invisible rather than dark. And not only were they in some far-flung galaxy but they were right here, a fundamental part of our reality – actually, something like 95.4% of our reality was dark energy and dark matter, the remaining 4.6% accounted for everything we could see, the entire detectable universe… it was mind-blowing.

The Bullet Cluster. The blue is thought to be caused by the gravitational effects of dark matter.

Years back I worked on a piece inspired by quantum entanglement: How two particles, once entangled, would continue to influence each other no matter how great a distance stood between them. It was a force that began to sound a little like love. For me, dark matter, dark energy ask questions that sound a little like metaphysics approached from a different direction… What if the ‘true’ nature of existence were hidden from us? 

This has led to a concerto inspired by these ideas – not a conventional concerto, something both new and dynamic: A Map of the Invisible. The soloist sits at centre, around him/her and the audience are 24 independent audio speakers. The concerto may feature one soloist or several. It is intended to be different each time it’s performed. The ‘map’ is provided by the speakers, the universe of sound all around us can change instantly, each audio speaker may become an individual singing voice, an orchestra instrument, a rain storm. The soloist is the ‘navigator’ his/her musical decisions steer us through the work.

Sounds: Source Materials

Humans, from Ptolemy to St. Peter, from Heraclitus to Hubble, have been drawing maps of the invisible for a very long time. I am fascinated by this quest to understand the unseen reality that apparently co-exists with us. To help create this particular ‘Map of the Invisible’ I draw from some of these maps (some are pictured below) and the traditions and rituals that surround them, as well as sounds of the universe itself:

Mapped Improvisation

The concerto is improvised from a ‘time-structured map’ which gives architecture to the dynamics and tonality of the work. The musician(s) at centre and the speaker-array operator all work from the same map.

Live Sounds

The sounds coming from the speakers are manipulated live (i.e. as well as the soloist the performance from the speakers is different each time) but will use material that has been written and recorded in advance so that a choir, orchestra, rainstorm, percussion group etc may suddenly appear around audience and performer.

Song of the Human (2016)featured The Crossing and used an 18 speaker surround at the Winter Garden, Manhattan
This speaker array is from Janet Cardiff’s ’40 Voice Motet’ which uses a surround of speakers to reimagine and recapture Thomas Tallis’s ‘Spem in Alium’.

Some other ‘Maps of the Invisible’:

Ptolemy placed the earth at centre of the solar system
One of the Christian ‘Maps of the Invisible’
An Ancient Greek ‘Map of the Invisible’
A Buddhist ‘Map of the Invisible’