Title: Pathology of Syntax
Instrumentation: String Quartet
Duration: approx. 16 min.
Premiere: Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik Festival 2009
Performers: Arditti Quartet
Pathology of Syntax (excerpt)
Pathology of Syntax (ending)
syntax, the expanded time-display depletes the
input of ‘blame’ which patters like scar tissue.
—from “Of Movement Towards A Natural Place” by J.H. Prynne (1974)
“Pathology of Syntax” (2006–07) for string quartet takes its title from the poem by J. H. Prynne “Of Movement Towards a Natural Place.” The poem is derived from a larger collection of poems titled “Wound Response” (1974) where the wound as a physical process extends beyond the language condition as metaphor to a close description of the process of pain, what Douglas Oliver calls a “sublime-literal” where poetic thought is bound to a scientific-like precision of observation. The wound causes a “pathology of syntax” that damages and corrupts the original flow of information, so that new musical constructions can emerge from a degraded lexicon and impose limitations on musical expression where gestures often dissolve into their physicality of bowing, plucking, scraping and brushing materials such as hair, wood and metal. Much of the gestural “language-like” aspects in “Pathology of Syntax” are derived from Beethoven’s Opus 135. Beethoven’s Der schwer gefasste Entschluss (The Difficult Decision), in my view, means tearing down the old ruling language of music in order to build a new language from its pathologies that is more inclusive of the world around us.