4th Box of Maps

By Michael Adelson
Composed in 2007

The idea for 4th Box of Maps first occurred to me while in Venice. The Basilica of San Marco is the obvious Venetian destination for a musician, and indeed it was inspiring to stand where Willaert and Gabrieli made their polychoral music over four centuries ago. I’m sure that reawakened my interest in site-specific antiphonal music.

More important to me, however, were certain things I noticed while wandering in that great labyrinth of a city. First, all Venice city maps are necessarily incomplete: The maze of streets and canals is too dense. To preserve legibility, a map must leave things out – sometimes up to a third of the streets in the city. Each map omits different streets, however, so you often find yourself in a place that doesn’t seem to exist, until you check another map. The implication is that there is a Platonic ideal of Venice, of which you can only catch glimpses. In addition, the topological changes around each corner (wide streets to narrow alleys, open piazza to confined courtyard, stone to water) produce changes in the ambient sound of the city. This is yet another, more subtle map, invisible but audible. As a result of all this, I had a curious sense of being simultaneously in several cities, all very similar but no two identical. Also, I became intensely aware that I was creating my own map – the map of my own journey, my own experience as I turned left instead of right, looked here but not there, or retraced my steps at a different time of day.

Venice changed my sense of place. I realized that every space and every time implies many maps, some not at all obvious. When I began to explore the Sanctuary of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, I found the variety of visual and acoustic perspectives highly suggestive. Though a concert is a communal event, each concertgoer creates his or her own map of their journey, listening from different vantage points, concentrating on different elements, experiencing different parts of the physical space, directing their attention to different people in the audience or onstage, and letting their mind wander at different times to different places.

Finally, I took inspiration from a short poem by Erica Jablon. In just a few lines, she touches so many of these ideas:

Pillars of leaves circle the rustling garden
White, they remember the moon’s theater
Remember the white stones
And the dark pool

The imagery evokes a particular place and time. But below the surface, the poem’s rhythm, internal correspondences, repetitions and almost-repetitions open up a complex and ambiguous world: maps within maps.