Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The Principle of Terrestrial Mediocrity



The title of this piece comes from Martin Amis's The Information:

“The history of astronomy is the history of increasing humiliation. First the geocentric universe, then the heliocentric universe. Then the eccentric universe – the one we’re living in. Every century we get smaller. Kant figured it all out, sitting in his armchair. What’s the phrase? The principle of terrestrial mediocrity.”

This provides a kind of programme for the piece - not a literal story, but a narrative of ideas perhaps. Essentially the piece is based around the Copernican realization that we are not in the center of the universe. The beginning of the piece attempts to build a harmonic world centered around D, which gradually becomes untenably complex despite desperate (and almost religious) assertions to the contrary. By pulling away this complexity a much simpler and more stable system is revealed underneath, as Copernican cosmolgy was in fact already contained with in the old, heliocentric Ptolemaic model. A flat, which has been present from the start, becomes a much more viable center of the work's universe. However, by the end, shifts of perspective and scale start to undermine that too and the Earth's D has moved even further to the margins.

I was fortunate enough to get to spend a great deal of time working with the fantastic San Francisco based pianist and composer Christopher Jones on this piece, and this is a studio recording he made of it in 2004. It is also available on CD Innova 635.

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