lucy and joseph collage
Wed 14 Feb 2024
Lucy Railton & Joseph Houston
Music (Classical)
Event organiser:
University of Leeds International Concert Series

Morton Feldman - Patterns in a Chromatic Field

Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) occupies a unique space within Morton Feldman’s body of work, sounding far more active on the surface in its first few bars than many of the glacial and hushed pieces for which he is so well known. However, it soon becomes apparent that despite this initial activity Feldman’s familiar stasis remains: “In this regularity… there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realise that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin — where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.” This “in-betweenness”, positioning the music in liminal space, is central to Feldman’s idea of his work and life and permeates this piece on every level. Patterns consists of variously numbered repetitions of rhythmic cells or chords, whose reiterations often subtly deviate from the original in a variety of ways: durations are altered, the register is shifted, or a new fragment might be superimposed onto something familiar. Our expectations are continually confounded: occasionally something active might interrupt an extremely still section, seemingly important sections are never heard again, and some material appears once and is not repeated. Feldman writes that as a composer he thinks in terms of modules, which he is then able to rearrange, stack, reverse or extend at will. In Patterns these modules “are complete in themselves, and in no need of development — only of extension.” Here again, Feldman is occupied by “inbetween-ness”: the repeated patterns are at once familiar and alien, moving and still, regular and irregular.

Feldman writes about his later works that he was making “a conscious attempt at ‘formalising’ a disorientation of memory.” The sheer scale of Patterns prevents us from perceiving the structure of the piece as a whole. There is a moment – about 30 minutes into the piece – at which one has almost managed to keep track of everything so far, but then reaches a kind of saturation point and must let go, becoming lost within the thicket of repetition and alteration. This “formalised disorientation” also extends to the notation of the pitches themselves, Feldman often using double-flats and double-sharps in the Cello part to indicate certain tones, which at once implies microtonal shading, a reaching beyond the equal-tempered notes of the piano (more “inbetween-ness” here), and a further obstacle to the concentration of the performer. Feldman was obsessed with Anatolian rugs and often used them as a direct inspiration for his music: a single stitch or line is weaved, and endlessly repeated, but – as they are made by humans – each repeated stitch, while in essence the same as the others, contain myriad differences. All of this has the effect of allowing us to focus intensely on each fading sound as a complete object in itself, uncompromised by functional or structural necessity. Stockhausen once asked Feldman what his secret was, to which Feldman replied: “I don’t push the sounds around.”
All of this detail and disorientation occurs at a hushed and fragile dynamic, liminality here making its presence felt in the way the music hovers between sounding and not-sounding. “This is perhaps why in my own music I am so involved with the decay of each sound, and try to make its attack sourceless. The attack of a sound is not its character. Actually, what we hear is the attack and not the sound. Decay, however, this departing landscape, this expresses where the sound exists in our hearing — leaving us rather than coming toward us.”

    Wed 14 Feb 2024
    Show all dates/times

    Ticket price

    Pay as you feel
    Baby changing facilities
    Buggy friendly
    Wheelchair access

    University of Leeds International Concert Series

    You may also like
    Seven Arts
    Concert Spoken Word
    Kirkstall Brewery & Taproom
    Food & Drink Social
    City Varieties
    Concert Performance
    The Brudenell Social Club
    Gig Music