Terminus

By Michael Adelson
Composed in 2008

This work explores issues of scale. I have always been fascinated by the very large, the very small, and most of all by the sensory experiences induced by juxtaposing myself in such situations. Standing in front of a mountain feels very different from standing in front of a bookcase. The experiences are different in kind; our kinesthetic, proprioceptive, and haptic senses are radically brought into play.

Scale has to do with the interrelation of parts, and is different from size. A work can be very large and at the same time of an intimate scale. Joyce’s “Ulysses” would be a classic example: it is a large book, but its component parts work together on a level commensurate with the whole. Conversely, Beckett’s “Imagination Dead Imagine” (a full novel of four pages) or Giacometti’s small-sized sculptures exhibit a tremendous scale. They impart a sense of vastness that borders on the vertiginous.

In music, the problem of scale is directly connected with the problems of sound, movement and, above all, time. Henri Michaux wrote, “Together, all these movements, actual or potential, occupy psychic space. Into this space you can enter.”

The title “Terminus” is that of a short story by the great Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006). Lem’s writings have given me much food for thought over the years, and “Terminus” in particular provided elements that are buried deep within the structure of this music.

My work is in no way an attempt to translate Lem’s text into music. (I don’t believe such a thing is possible, in any case.) However, certain aspects of the story provided generative elements that catalyzed the process of composition. If there are similarities, they are not intended to be explicit. The one exception is the end: the final two minutes of music contain references that will be apparent to any reader of Lem’s haunting tale.