Quantum Melodics is a piece about quantum mechanics, the physics of the very small. The piece requires the performers to re-think how music works in the same way that quantum mechanics forced physicists to re-think how the world works. Quantum mechanics describes a world of probability, in which one cannot know exactly where a particle (e.g. proton, electron, etc…) is at a certain time, but can know exactly how probable it is that a particle will be at a certain place at a certain time.
Quantum Melodics is based on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This principle says that the more accurately you know where a particle is, the less accurately you can know how fast it is moving, and vice-versa. To me, this principle seems ridiculous, since it would appear that I could just look at the particle and know where it is and how fast it is moving. But quantum mechanics is weird. Protons and electrons are not tiny marbles. They are impossible to visualize; the best way to describe them, at least in English, is ‘clouds of probability.’ Quantum Melodics is an attempt to describe them better.
In this piece, I make the analogy between position and melody, and between momentum and rhythm. I applied Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to music. The more well-defined the melody is, the less well-defined the rhythm, and vice-versa.
The first section of the piece is derived from two 14-note melodic phrases and two 14-note rhythmic phrases. It begins with high melodic clarity and low rhythmic clarity. This means that the pitch of the notes was derived solely from one of the two melodies, while they rhythm of the notes was derived from both of the two rhythmic phrases. Gradually, the piece shifts to low melodic clarity and high rhythmic clarity, and back. The first rhythm becomes clear, and then the second melody becomes clear, and then the second rhythm becomes clear. Eventually, we make a full cycle and are back where we started. Listen for the mutation of the melody – snippets of notes or phrases that disappear and are replaced by different phrases.
The second section is improvisational, and uses the same analogy of contrasting melody and rhythm. There are two melodic ideas and two rhythmic ideas. The melodies are the same as the melodic ideas from the previous section. The rhythms, however, are time signatures – 3/4 and 4/4. The conductor, representing the scientist making a measurement, will, at several points in the improvisation, create total clarity in either melody or rhythm. The clarity will be short lived, and almost immediately we will fall back into uncertainty.
Quantum Melodics should make you uncomfortable. There is never a point in the composition in which we can relax, in which both rhythm and melody can be well-defined. As a listener, I do not expect you to hear protons and electrons; instead, I hope you hear the uncertainty and the certainty, the clarity and the lack of clarity. If you are confused, don’t panic. This piece is intended to be confusing. So sit forward in your seat, try not to relax, and enjoy the confusion!