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Program notes from the premiere of Gravitations

November 9, 2006 – Roxy Grove Hall, Baylor University


Frederic Rzewski stated that “For music not to just be noise it has to gravitate between rational and irrational escape from limitations of both.” Gravitations was written by Ben Johansen to push the limitations of music. The experience tonight will be new to everyone: Gravitations has not been rehearsed . . . at all. Johansen wrote the piece in such a way that performers know when to play according to specific cues written in their parts. The experience is highly experimental, at times very tonal and rational and at others very dissonant and irrational.


Text below.

Johansen’s collected or personal philosophical ideas of music (the latter portion of ten contains Rzewski’s words):


  1. The central concern of the current concert situation should be with the wall that exists between the stage and the audience, the performers and the listeners. The audience should come to experience music rather than just hear it. They should feel as though they are participants rather than merely seat fillers or ticket buyers.
  2. (memorized - spoken from “heart”) – That is why I speak directly to you. The easiest and most efficient and effective way performers can break down the barrier is to come out and tell the audience why they like the piece and why they are playing it. I like this piece because it enables me to share many of my thoughts about music through instruments I have been experimenting with [spatial issues?].
  3. A performance as an object embodies the superiority of a photograph over a recording in that photographs have more potential to become art while recordings traditionally fill the archival role.
  4. All sound can be regarded as music when organized. The organization of that which is heard is, at times, left up to the listener.
  5. Does a listener’s lack of knowledge equal less understanding, producing less enjoyment in the more complex? Do those that know much enjoy the simple less?
  6. If the point of music is communication, a person must have the knowledge to understand it in order to gain from it; otherwise it is analogous to listening to a foreign language.
  7. If the point of music is to evoke emotion, understanding is only key to whether the emotion the composer intends is conveyed or not, some emotion will be evoked.
  8. Can music make someone experience an emotion they have never before experienced?
  9. God does not want us to live dull lives full of conformity. All too often, society fails to recognize diversity as a strength, leading most people to surrender their dreams in exchange for a more predictably safe life. Faith and predictability cannot coexist.
  10. New music dwells on that which the world said it cannot do. It should not be predictable or comfortable. Why read books, turn on the TV, or go to the theatre but to be moved, thrilled, stimulated, even exhausted?! .... But, for music not to just be noise it has to gravitate between rational and irrational escape from limitations of both.