Curated by San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music in partnership with the Presidio Trust.
Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence, by David Balakrishnan***
- Lonesome George
- Flutter Point
Dedicated to Dr. A.V. Balakrishnan
My father loved his mathematics. His eyes would light up when he got to work on a juicy problem, squiggling away on his yellow notepads, his chosen workplace often being the bathroom, where he could sit undisturbed for hours on end, in total and oblivious concentration. “Aeroelasticity” is the subject matter and title of his last book; he passed away in March 2015. At the time of its publication in 2012, he was a spry 90 years young and still actively teaching as professor of engineering at UCLA, a position he held since the early 1960’s. My copy came with his grumbled complaint that the world no longer cared what was in between zero and one.
His dreamy rebellious musician son, having grown up deeply averse to the taste of a life trapped in the seemingly heartless monotony of numbers, I have zilch understanding of the hieroglyphics that comprise 95% of his writings. But I do resonate with the title. Simply said, the book intends to make meaningful and useable sense out of the incredibly complex patterns that continually changing air currents create when they interact. I see that as mirroring my own lifelong pursuit of composing stylistically integrated music drawing from apparently disparate musical genres and dialects, sifting for universal congruities buried beneath the cultural overlay. At a still deeper level it echoes the chaotic seeming turbulence of my life’s journey as I try to make sense and usefulness of that as well.
Some words on the individual movements:
The secular usages of the term Backlash are of course commonly found in many areas of life, from politics to plumbing. The music of this movement for me has a lurching quality reflective of the way the term is used in engineering technical journals, often applied to the seizing up of gears in a mechanism, or, specific to the topic at hand, flight anomalies of jets buffeted by turbulent air currents.
The last surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise of the Galapagos, Lonesome George was twice induced to mate, first with females from a neighboring island, and then, when that didn’t take, with females of a related subspecies from Espanola Island. Which also didn’t work, and so when Lonesome George finally died (estimated to be over 100 years old at the time of his passing), his species died with him. Jazz primitivism a la Darius Milhaud, morphing into a choleric bluesy little ditty in waltz time, then a bit of fun at old George’s expense; bluegrass fiddle hoedown grooves depicting the two bungled procreating attempts. After the second and more lively mating episode (exotic turtle beauties of a different breed!), a mournful Count Basie-esque tag leads back to the main melody, inevitably sinking back down into the primordial ooze that ever awaits.
Pralaya is a Sanskrit word often translated as dissolution, or death. In the Samkhya philosophy of Hinduism it is indicative of the periods in between cycles of creation when the universe arrives at total rest. I find evoked in this music the sweet sadness of final farewells, as well as an opaqueness that leaves fertile ground for emergent tendrils of life to sprout anew.
When a Flutter Point is reached in the interactions of air currents on a plane, any further change leading towards cessation would result in a crash. The music dances on the razor’s edge of a cataclysmic pileup, one that never materializes, at least not in the way expected. And so it begins—again…
All things are impermanent
They arise and they pass away
To be in harmony with this truth
Brings great happiness
Annica chant (ancient Buddhist prayer)
*** This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.