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A Superior Spectre

Composer, Producer

Conversation between different artistic media appears recurrently throughout history. In the realm of literature, one key instance is that of ekphrastic poetry, a creative approach formally founded on classical philosophy that involves the written and/or verbal description of visual art. In the realm of music, many composers have directly associated their works with literary texts, as is the case in program music and opera. In the spring of 2022, the David Zwirner Gallery presented Ourself behind ourself concealed, a series of abstract visual artworks by Colombian artist Oscar Murillo. The title of this exhibition comes from a poem written by Emily Dickinson in 1862. According to the gallery’s curators, Murillo is “responding to this literary idea of a spectre within the self,” and “in these massive canvases, Murillo [conveys] a visceral and almost corporeal turmoil” (David Zwirner Gallery, 2022). This project was designed to carry this conceptual inspiration into the context of music, to respond with sound. Moreover, much of the process of composition is passively and actively driven by musical and sonic references. Here, the project is an exercise in treating specific visual material as a significant influence alongside allusions to other music and sound art.

A Superior Spectre, named for another line in the Dickinson poem mentioned above, is an electronic composition in three movements, each one correlating to a particular painting. Movement I plays with the notion of an established structural equilibrium, the stability of which is in peril. While an arpeggiated pattern runs consistently through the piece, it does so under effects, such as a filtered gate, manipulated in pursuit of a gentle sense of shakiness and fragility. The arrival of the bass causes a subtle interruption that gradually grows into a competition for the foreground, emulating a similar occurrence within the painting. Taking on a protective role, the drums fight for security. Dickinson writes, in fear of a meeting with this self manifested as a ghost, “The prudent carries a revolver / He bolts the door,” (Dickinson, 1862). The painting echoes this anxious preparation; grand dark brush strokes cover up colors and obfuscate the depth of what is behind them. Another layer of synthesized sound comes into support the drums, as well as the other elements, to communicate this mindset from a melodic angle. Of the three paintings, this one feels the heaviest. It is sinister and somewhat static by comparison. Movement I stands as such in the full composition.

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