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The new heartbeat of music

Reading time: 3 min. Jay SchwartzTonuspremiere

The world premiere of Jay Schwartz's newest work Tonus - Music for Orchestra VI will be performed by the SWR Symphonieorchester on 8 June 2019 at the Theaterhaus Stuttgart. In this composition Jay Schwartz was inspired by the motoric characteristics of heartbeats.

He describes his compositional process as, "two interlocked events: X-Y. Y as the result of X, Y emerges from X, Y is triggered by X, analogous to the heartbeat, consisting of two phases: the systolic and the diastolic." "Systolic" comes from the Greek "systole" meaning "a drawing together or a contraction.", "Diastolic", meaning "a drawing apart". These terms have been in use since the 16th century to denote the contraction and relaxation period of the heart muscle. The term "Tonus" is used as s metaphoric parallel between medicine and music. In music theory, "tonus" is described as a whole-tone step with the frequency proportion 9:8.

"In my studies for this composition I analyzed recordings of the sounds of heartbeats, which I digitally slowed down and understood to be in the musical context of tension and release, a relationship between two interlocked sound events. The second is part of the first and emerges from the first or appears to have been triggered by the first. In other words: the first sound event is filtered over time, and through this - by the omission of layers of sound - a second, seemingly new sound event is slowly created. These interlocked sound events, at first clusters of indefinite pitch, slowly become two harmonic oscillating chords in a whole tone ratio (Tonus). 
This two-part tension, similar to the systolic-diastolic heartbeat, is the formal basis of the composition on the micro-level – where extremely decelerated heart beats were the inspiration for the orchestration of the interlocked waves and sound formations – as well as on the macro- level, where a cathartic event appears in the middle of the composition (to be precise, at about eight-ninths of the composition) emerging out of the tension of the first half of the piece, triggering a huge release in the second half of the composition, analogous to the cardiac cycle during which the heart refills with blood."

 Jay Schwartz