On the Symmetries

DD—I've read elsewhere, in other interviews, that there's a formation in [The Well-Tuned Piano tuning] that's of special interest to you, that's the pair of 9/8's separated by a central 64/63.

LMY—Yes. I first discovered that in The Well-Tuned Piano and I found it really intriguing and later—you know I've always been interested in symmetries, as is Marian in her work, visually, and later under a commission from the late Robert Scull, made an entire work based on that relationship, but it gradually led through The Big Dream and The Big Dream Symmetries and into The Romantic Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119, which is my most recent work. I composed it in January of this year [1989] and in particular right now I have this one-year sound environment and Marian has a light environment at 548 W. 22nd Street [NYC], which is being sponsored by the Dia Art Foundation with assistance from the Mela Foundation. In the Bob Scull commission, I took the range of 56 to 72, and used those tones which were not multiples of 5 within that range so there were like two little, what I think of as mini-tetrachords: 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63 made the tetrachord from 56 to 63, and 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72 made the tetrachord from 64 to 72. In January of this year [1989], I decided I really wanted to start listening to intervals in the range 112 to 144, [the previous range transposed up an octave—Ed.] and first I had all the intervals available to me in that range but I—for me primes are not just musical essences, but perhaps the most fundamental essences of matter and all structures we can understand. And I was beginning to understand that more, and to think about that idea, and so I decided that since I was very interested in this one 9/7 interval for a long time, I mean I was playing that interval in The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys and in The Well-Tuned Piano. It wasn't in Pre-Tortoise Dream Music, it was in The Well-Tuned Piano, however. But 9/7is certainly an interval that can come up in blues and I was playing blues before The Well-Tuned Piano. So in The Romantic Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119, I decided to work with only multiples of 9 and primes and those octaves of primes which fall within the range 112 to 144.

DD—When you're playing all those tones within that comparatively narrow range, are they all within a single octave or are they displaced?

LMY—Well, see, what differentiates the different Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 is that they move out into ranges symmetrically. I explained that in the notes, maybe not in enough detail to make it clear. The first symmetry is just a closed-position symmetry which has those frequencies which satisfy the conditions, but then the way the symmetries are created and this is also the way The Big Dream Symmetries were created, which was the work I was doing before The Romantic Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119. Let's go back to The Big Dream Symmetries which grew out of the Robert Scull commission in the range of 56 to 72. Let's just say for example that we take 57 and move it down an octave so that it's a major seventh below 56, right? And 56 will really be moved up an octave and 57 will stay right where it is, but let's not worry about that. We'll move 57 down an octave, we all know we can do that. Then we take 71 and move it up an octave so that it's a major seventh above 72, so that's how I create the symmetries. So the symmetries are a kind of tonal conversion where the movement of one tone from the upper tetrachord moves in the opposite direction by the same amount as a tone in the lower tetrachord, so that the next to the highest tone in the upper chord moves up an octave and the next to the lowest tone in the lower tetrachord moves down an octave; then let's say that next to the highest tone in the lower tetrachord moves down two octaves, then the next to the lowest tone in the upper tetrachord moves up two octaves, and that's how the symmetries are created. So each one of the symmetries in The Romantic Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119 and in The Big Dream Symmetries is unique in that it has some special arrangement of the tones from these two tetrachords. So in The Romantic Symmetry, well let's forget about the 60 cycle base because that's a special condition, in The Romantic Symmetries in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119; well, with the 60 cycle base it covers a range of seven octaves. In fact I was going to do the Great Romantic Symmetry instead of The Romantic Symmetry over a 60 cycle base and with my Rayna synthesizer found out I have to buy another card to get the high tone. So there was going to be a tone up there around 20,000 cycles, but I had used up too many oscillators. As it is, there are 23 frequencies sounding, which is quite good for a synthesizer, especially over that range, but I've just bought a couple of cards which he's going to tie together, which will let me have quite a lot of tones simultaneously. The way his synthesizer works, there are about 49 oscillators, but some of them are used up refreshing the memory of the waveform so that you can only have a certain number of them playing simultaneously and also the range you're in affects how many you can have. If you go up very high, it uses up more of the oscillators to refresh the memory of the waveform. It's a fantastic synthesizer.

DD—How do the properties of these primes that interest you theoretically tie in with the actual experience of hearing them?

LMY—Very well. I was really inspired when I had the chance to hear them. Obviously in this case I was thinking about them and finally I punched them up and got a chance to hear them and they really sound wonderful. I really think I've hit upon something extremely important and the sound of these is just like, in particular of The Romantic Symmetry and The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base), the feeling is like a primordial ecstatic state. It's just unbelievable. Most people who have heard it have been very moved. I mean you can always find somebody who doesn't like it, but I'm surprised that as many people like it as do, but it's been one of my most successful presentations. I'm really surprised because people have really inspired my belief in the last few years.