Panopticon continues a line of enquiry present in pieces of mine beginning with graft (1999) for string quartet through to Hauptstimme (2013) for solo viola and ensemble, and Hirta Rounds (2015) for sixteen unconducted strings – namely the role of the individual within a larger, group setting and particularly, the functions of leaders and followers.
In this piece, the cimbalom player assumes the role of ‘instigator’ and ‘governor’. Instigator insomuch as every attack on the string of the instrument has a direct, albeit delayed consequence in the rest of the string ensemble. Each beat on the strings of the cimbalom triggers a ripple, much like a stone dropped into a still lake, which eventually reaches the strings who reflect and magnify its effects. The cimbalom also governs all aspects of pulse and dynamic and, through its careful exploration of the natural harmonics available on its lowest string, plots the entire course of the piece.
The word “panopticon” is usually associated with an 18th century design concept of a circular prison whereby the cells were arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could be observed at all times.