Guyuhmgan, for orchestra, is part of a large ongoing project called Mysterium ("Caeli enarrant..." VII). "Caeli enarrant..." is a cycle of works begun in 1989 and reflecting my fascination with astronomy as well as some personal spiritual convictions. Mysterium, the last part of this cycle, is an ever-evolving conceptual work in an open form.
Influences behind the composition of Guyuhmgan include:
1) My discovery of the works of Australian Aboriginal painter Kathleen Petyarre: her huge canvasses filled with innumerable tiny dots, which look a bit like a night sky, have made a great impression on me. The beginning of Guyuhmgan is a direct reflection of this.
2) The great book "Pensées" ["Thoughts" by the 17th century philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal's thoughts on the smallness of man in the scheme of things are every bit as humbling and as relevant today as they were 300 years ago ("The eternal silence of infinite space terrifies me.")]
In some ways, Guyuhmgan is rather similar to my last orchestral work, Ngangkar. It is soft throughout, dramatic tension being derived from the polarity between a regular crotchet pattern and graphically notated rhythmic unpredictability, between sound and silence, tonal and quartertone elements, homophonic lines and complex polyphonic material, expanded and contracted time.
In some ways, however, Guyuhmgan has meant a new departure for me:
1) The use of extended playing techniques is of course nothing new in contemporary music. It was, however, only after a long internal deliberation that I resolved to incorporate such sounds in my current music. The whole philosophy of Mysterium being one of purity, I could at first see no use for so-called "dirty" or "distorted" sounds. Only when I stopped judging and putting labels such as "beautiful" or "ugly" on things and instead accepted them for what they are did I begin to open myself to different kinds of beauty - an act of great liberation.
2) Fractal structures, i. e. structures in the universe that show a similar make-up from the microscopic to the macroscopic level, have fascinated me for a long time. Looking through a microscope and looking through a telescope - two ways of looking at the world that have very little in common with most people's everyday experience of the world, and yet have every right to be taken as seriously as today's stock exchange results. I have been wondering for a while how to translate the concept of fractal geometry into musical structures, and it was while reading Pascal's thoughts on "I'infiniment petit et l'infiniment grand " that it struck me how narrow a bandwidth out of the spectrum of reality we humans can actually grasp. Modern technology can greatly help us in our quest, of course - yet ultimately it has limits too. My current music is rhythmically based on a regular crotchet grid, which I have occasionally broken by contracting/expanding the crotchets by ratios of 4, i. e. making them into semiquavers/semibreves. This produces a pattern of irregular or "limping" bars. It occurred to me that contracting/expanding this entire rhythmic concept by 4 or even 4 x 4 would come close to the aforementioned fractal structures (a box inside a box inside a box...). Through this process, the length of the "crotchets" would be between 1/32 of a second at one end of the spectrum and 128 seconds (2.133 min) at the other. No human musician could reasonably be expected to execute those rhythms with any degree of accuracy.
The computer, on the other hand, has got no trouble at all handling those dimension. Hence my use of this medium in Guyuhmgan, the first time I have ever done so. It is meant to highlight the inadequacy of human perception and comprehension, much in the way Pascal described. One further symbol for the discrepancy between human perception and the complexity of reality: During most of the piece, the computer, like the instrumentalists, uses a scale based on quarter-tones. At the very end of Guyuhmgan, however, the computer sounds soar higher and higher into the "stratosphere" using random pitches based on intervals much smaller than quarter-tones, something live performers could not be expected to play accurately. Within this rhythmic framework based on crotchets (which appear at different levels of speed and slowness), I see the random graphic notation as the "completely other", which does not fit into this rhythmic frame on any specific level but drifts freely between all of them: God? It is important to add that I have only just touched upon the concept of fractals in this piece - I like suggesting new developments in one piece, rather like opening a little window, and then exploring them further in the next.
The title Guyuhmgan (an Aboriginal word meaning "stars") reflects my love of the vast empty space of the Australian landscape with its radiantly beautiful night skies. While any number of interpretations are of course allowed, one possible way to listen to the piece is to imagine a starlit sky with all its constellations and concentrations, its darkness and light, the vastness of its silence.