Jonathan Nangle is an Irish composer whose work explores many diverse fields ranging from notated acoustic and electro-acoustic composition, through live and spatially distributed electronics, to video, interactive sound instillation and electronic improvisation. Here, he writes for Culture about his remarkable debut album, Pause.
If you walk to the south-east corner of St. Stephen's Green Park, by the Lesson Street gate, you will come across a fountain by artist Joseph Wackerle depicting the Three Fates, three sisters who weave and measure the thread of man’s destiny. Clotho spins the thread of human fate, Lachesis dispenses it, and Atropos cuts the thread.
On the eve of the release of my debut album, Pause, I find myself looking back and reflecting on the process, and I am drawn to the analogy of spinning threads, patterns woven in time, how each individual stitch, significant at the time, pales when one stands back and absorbs the result, a sum of years, tangents meeting, patterns emerging.
During the act of composition, the composer plays the role of all three fates, weaving a sonic palette from ink splashes on a page. Threading a narrative through sound, lines twisting and entwining, manipulating time, all things decided before a piece becomes a living thing through the interpretation of an able performer.
Pause, the title track of the album, started life from a small two-bar phrase lifted from the third movement of American composer Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata. This connecting thread stretches back to the early twentieth century and is filtered through my twenty-first-century imagination.
Listen to Pause below, via Spotify:
Time is slowed down during My heart stopped a thousand beats, a piece for viola and cello. Here, my aim was to create complexity through simple conglomeration, in this instance just using six notes. The pattern seems simple on the page; the complexity reveals itself in performance.
In Where distant city lights flicker on half-frozen ponds for solo violin and resonators, variation is like a ripple on the surface of a pond, the original image distorted and fragmented but always there.
The final piece on the album, Tessellate, is for cello and electronics. Here, patterning is at its most complex. We are quite familiar with tessellations, though we might not know the term. A tessellation is created when a shape (triangles, squares, hexagons) is repeated over and over again, covering a plane without any gaps.
Tessellations surround us, from elaborate tile mosaics adorning buildings, the honeycomb structure of beehives, to the pattern on the soles of your shoes. The material in this piece takes this idea of a repeating pattern to build a bigger picture.
The cover art of the album depicts a landscape, abstract in its interpretation, hand-knitted by my brother Andrew. Each individual stitch, tightly knotted, as important as the one before and the one that follows, until finally one steps back and sees the image as a whole, a tessellation of converging triangles.
I didn't set out to make an album when I wrote these pieces. Each was written on request from a performer or group and, when the idea of an album formed, the thread binding it was Crash Ensemble, who have performed each of the pieces spanning a period of 10 years.
Pause (released by Ergodos) is out now.