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Raphael Mostel

Musical performance on keyboard of 'T' Space commission, Envoi: Vertical Thoughts for SHA

2014 Season

Raphael Mostel performed at ‘T’ Space on two occasions. In 2013, Mostel played In a Landscape by John Cage for the opening reception of The Architectonics of Music. And in 2014, Mostel premiered Envoi: Vertical Thoughts for SHA, a composition on keyboard commissioned by ‘T’ Space to accompany Alyson Shotz’s exhibition, Interval.

This work started from a discussion about Morton Feldman’s Vertical Thoughts.

In the XY axis of music, the horizontal is time, and pitches are the vertical — what the ancients called the axis mundi. Complicating this two-dimensional view of music is the sensual truth that each of these two interpenetrating elements is organically relative to the other — rhythms sped up alchemically transform into pitches, and pitches slowed down become rhythm.

For Feldman, pitches are like living, breathing, shamanic beings, much as color was for his friend Mark Rothko. The chance determined pitch materials for this work are exclusively from names associated with Steven Holl Architects.

Vertical Thoughts for SHA is comprised of two independent, interpenetrating structures. Fibonacci relations spiral and foreshorten the first structure, honing its direction and dimensions. The diverse and chaotic interpenetrations of the second structure introduce harmonic and melodic whorls that counter-intuitively clarify the whole.

In this homage, as in almost all of Feldman’s music, time exists without a regular rhythm or “beat” — a timelessness to better anchor the vertical presence.

— Raphael Mostel, What is Music, 2014

Music is the interpenetration of sound and space through time.

Hearing is the only sense that does not sleep. It begins before birth and even continues for a brief time after death. It is immersive and unstoppable.

Sound is inherently spatial. Sometimes even contradicting sight, which reflects surface and shape, hearing surveys the interior — whether of space, material or object. Nothing reveals interior content more honestly than sound. Tap on a wall or a melon to reveal what cannot be seen beyond the surface.

Inhabiting space through time is the native condition of music. Erik Satie’s Musique d’ameublement (Furniture Music) satirized the false conception of music as immaterial or passive. John Cage demonstrated that by intently listening, nothingness is not empty, and emptiness is not nothing.

Back in the 18th century, Ernst Chladni discovered how sounds force space to conform to their shaping. Reversing that process, Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room gradually transformed his own voice into that of the space itself.

Witold Lutoslawski likened his compositions to urban planning. Through the “magic charm” of non-retrogradable inversions and rhythmic cycles, Olivier Messiaen claimed to transmute time itself into space.

While drawing on ancient Greek mythology and philosophers, Iannis Xenakis structured compositions according to more contemporary scientific theories and methods of measurement, to make aurally manifest the nature of the world.

Method is useful only when shining through it is the light and resonance of inspiration. Language. Vocabulary. Form. Scale. Technique. Gesture. “Architectonics of Music” seeks resonances and new inspirations from those points where the disciplines and ideas of music and architecture interpenetrate.

— Raphael Mostel, 2013

New York composer Raphael Mostel is known for his use of Tibetan singing bowls in his ritualistic works. In 1983, he founded the Tibetan Singing Bowl Ensemble, which has recorded his compositions for a variety of labels including Angel and Digital Fossils. Mostel composed music commemorating the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was performed at ceremonies in 1987 and can be heard on Blood on the Moon. He has received fellowships, commissions, and grants from a number of organizations, and has worked as a lecturer, freelance writer, and conductor. In the latter half of the ’90s, two multimedia retrospectives of Mostel’s work were put on in N.Y.C. In 2000, his score for the children’s story “Travels of Babar” premiered, incorporating slides and narrators.

Text courtesy Joslyn Layne

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