whatWALL? (2003)

For alto saxophone and quadraphonic tape
Written for and dedicated to Brian Sacawa.

The title is a dense complex of references. It is anhomage to an architectural work by Eric Owen Moss, itself a reference to a 1929 essay by Le Corbusier in which the modern master countered the criticism that his architecture favored formal qualities over the functionalism of the New Objectivity. It also refers to an earlier work of mine for baritone saxophone and percussion, WATT, which is a reference to a work by Samuel Beckett. Histories, both personal and extra-personalintermesh.

I have drawn much inspiration from the writings of Eric Owen Moss – his non-demagogic ideology, his non-“movement” stance, his reappraisal of simple elements, his diverse knowledge, and holistic thinking. Here is an excerpt of his notes to his “What Wall?”:

“What Wall? questions whether one can finally provide the simplest definition for a simple subject: what is a wall? The entry wall is not so much the proposing of a solution as the furthering of the question to address the apparently contradictory relationship between an idea of architectural freedom and the control needed to realize it.

The wall, in a conceptual sense, is freedom itself - limitless. A more tangible analogue would be a cloud of smoke: ethereal, almost formless. But the kind of representational control required to build such "freedom" is astonishing. For instance, the wall has three steel "windows" in it that bend and twist in response to the shape. There are fifty-two working drawing sheets for the windows alone. The eight hundred eight-inch by eight-inch specially cut concrete blocks - thirty-two sheets. The computer generated interlocking grided plywood formwork to support the blocks - seven sheets.

The subject becomes as much the drawn representation and technical control required to build a design conception that is about the opposite, as it was the opposite.

Is conceptual freedom architectural freedom? Or do the demands for the drawn representation of architecture negate the freedom concept?”

The title is also descriptive of the structure of the piece. One aspect of the structure is a gradual accumulation of multiphonics (verticalities) played by the saxophonist. This coincides with a gradual build-up of electronic sounds (initially sounding like resonance but later transforming into a more independent layer of sound) which eventually surrounds the audience in quadraphonic space (a sonic “wall” around the audience).

“whatWALL?” is also a personal call to arms, that an artist should always strive to go beyond whatever boundaries stand before him.

Link to watch video: http://www.kenueno.com/qt/whatWALL.mov
Link to Brian Sacawa: http://briansacawa.com/

Ken Ueno
Brief Description
Piece for solo alto saxophone, surround-sound electronics, and interactive video