In a Large Open Space gets physical with sonic explorations
Tina Pearson is giving me a physics lesson. True, I called her up to talk about music — specifically, LaSam Music and Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini’s upcoming performance of In a Large Open Space — but the talk quickly turned to the physics of sound. Why? Well, In a Large Open Space, penned by the late Canadian-American pianist and composer James Tenney, is an exploration of the harmonic series, a sequence of naturally occurring frequencies.
Lost? So was I. “If I took a violin string and plucked it, say it was vibrating at 200 cycles per second,” Pearson explains. “If I divided that in half, it’s going to vibrate at 400, which is about an octave above. If I divide it in three, it’s going to vibrate three times as fast, so it’s now going to be 600 per second. If I keep going up like that in this pure mathematical relationship.”
So, what makes this interesting, you might be asking. Well, as it turns out, the widely used 12-tone equal temperament tuning method — the tuning you’d hear on a piano today — is quite different.
“In order to accomplish [12-tone equal temperament], a lot of the natural harmonics are out of tune,” says Pearson. “So James Tenney was really interested in exploring the actual harmonics series and its relationship to 12-tone equal temperament … I just think it’s important for people to understand, and have access to, hearing the sounds between the cracks.”
The concert, which takes place Saturday in the Church of St. John the Divine, is a typical LaSam offering in that it’s not typical. The Victoria musician and composer collective is known for its eclectic musical offerings; they were behind, among other things, the performance of Yoko Ono’s Secret Piece at Durrance Lake, and are developing a project based on the sonic environment of orca whales in the Salish Sea with whale-research station OrcaLab.
“We’re quite interested in the idea of music that can resonate with people that don’t necessarily have a background in classical music or avant garde music,” says Pearson.
“We’re kind of getting out of the format of an elite concert, trying to open our sensibilities — because it’s really wonderful for us to do — but also to offer things to people that they can enter.”
And In a Large Open Space will be a far cry from an elite concert setting. The musicians, who will be playing everything from glasses and modular synths to more conventional instruments like violins and trumpets, will be spread out in the church while they perform.
“People are free to move around to hear it. It will be quite meditative, I think,” says Pearson. “It’s just a delicious way of simply opening up this sound world for people — and in a beautiful space.” M
In a Large Open Space2pm Saturday, March 12Church of St. John the Divine, 1611 QuadraTickets $10lasammusic.wordpress.com