About the Same
computer-generated sounds

Robert Morris

Program Notes

About the Same was composed in the spring of 1999. It is the fourth in a series of computer music compositions including Night Sky Scroll (1985), Four or Five Mirrors (1990), and MA (1992). Unlike its predecessors, it has a more "orchestral" sound, and projects its materials (also different in kind from the others) in a more discontinous manner. Nevertheless, the four pieces make an agreeable set, which is available on compact disc from the composer, via Morris Music.

The following account of About the Same is by Elaine Barkin, from her "Colloquy and Review: Ten Texts," published in The Open Space Magazine, 3:203-4 (2001).

"Linguistic meaning is rooted in the felt experience induced by special sounds and sound-shapes as they echo and contrast with one another, each language a kind of song, a particular way of singing the world....In the expectation of a sensation, I give ear, and suddenly the sensible takes possession of my ear...and I surrender a part of, even my whole, body to this particular manner of vibrating and filling space...."

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from Phenomenology of Perception, 1962.

About About the Same

The first time around, it was the opening low low undulating low [F], coming in after a shaky thin high [B], that got to me, that I wanted to hear again; something about low's closeness to earth-deep, grounded, undergrounded, full, room-filling bottomsound-, way beneath the hovering floating high; and given the title I reckoned there'd be a recurrence in some how or other. At the start, low palpitates for less than 30 seconds; later on, in another guise, same-toned low resounds giant Mbira-like, as if hand slapped or plucked (and for a moment I think of Harry Partch). All through, there's a quasi-casualness (not quite the word I want, given the definitude and pitch-purposefulness with which the work sounds to have been composed), an ease about the way in which soundshapes morph in and out, shift up and down, fill in and come into sensate range, then fade from earshot; not much is ever still for long; chordal interlude-like single-threaded tunes spread out to reveal a vast turf; chromatic multi-directional arpeggios, soon overtaken as low ground gives way to high ground; at times all takes its time, at times too fast to catch up with; not confusing, but overflowing. Deep tones roll in and take hold intermittently, and I latch onto them as landmarks on a journey through sets of supple pillars or archways that yield to-or from which emanates-a converging, a massing of pent-up energy biding its time, just waiting to be given a chance to be heard. (During one listening an image cropped up of a pair of deaf folks having a super-animated conversation; I do often listen/hear with my fingers, all those years years back of piano playing producing a kinesthesia of fingered mind-sound-ear-play.) At other times I imagine Pollock in the act of hurling paint, RM's heavy intense symphonic onrushes almost always on the move, lapping at me; only rarely does something flit by too fast for me to get to hear it; only rarely is there too much going on, yet there's plenty happening all of the time; rare moments of stillness interrupt ever-widening expanses; opening dyad landmarks, journeyed-through, briefly sustained here and there, a third of the way in, just midway, and close to 2/3rds of the way through; holds on E or E-flat or F-sharp or a distinctive G-D fifth offer brief moments of respite rarely lasting longer than 5-7 seconds; multi-threaded, multi-dimensioned massings thicken but not totally impenetrably; the final eventfilled 3 1/2 minutes of this ca. 15-minute work come after the only real silence, a brief 2 seconds, rapid riffs, abrupt turns, superharmonies, real silence, a brief 2 seconds, rapid riffs, abrupt turns, superharmonies, traces of Free Jazz-maybe after many listenings I got to where I could hear through the shifts, could hear the wholeness, not easy to do; seriousness joined with composure never letting up or go; and clinching the close is mid-range homebase B-F harmony, 'about the same' as the opening-with opening low F/high B outsides now flipped over-and after it hangs/they hang in for about 15 seconds, all finally holds still; it's quite a trip!

July 31, 2000