The Obligations of Memory

for 'cello, piano, violin
By Kyle Bartlett
“Whence does this transcendental energy come to me, this postponement which is time itself, this future in which memory will lay hold of a past that was before the past, the ‚Äòdeep past, never past enough’‚Äîan energy already presupposed by recollection in a home?” (Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Lingis)

I am very suspicious of the past and of memory. The past continually rewrites itself, with subtle (or less-than-subtle) modifications. My memory, encouraged by a photograph or another artifact, can construct vibrantly real histories and mythologies that I never could have witnessed, or remembered. I work often wordlessly, mostly intuitively, yet I am called upon to create an archeology of my discipline; such a retrospective activity is by its nature at best a post-mortem, possibly a rationalization, and at worst, a lie.

“The Obligations of Memory” falls into three clearly demarcated sections, each differentiated with particular rhetorical, contrapuntal, and tempo identities. The sections are related in that the piano’s harmonies of the first section are renewed by multiple revoicings; the hands are then separated from one another and recombined according to stochastic operations. This technique continues through the third section, although with different transpositions and different dramatic identity. While I work mostly by intuition, I find that sometimes combining this with chance operations or highly formalistic work methods can circumvent the mind’s annoying habit of repetition. Recurring dreams, repetition compulsions, comfortable habits.

In spite of our best efforts I believe it is impossible to know another completely. Hence this work, as I look back on it, is suffused with an aura of alienation, loss of identity, attempts at communication. The theatrical element of the work certainly clearly articulates this and introduces these ideas in a form of physical parataxis for the performers. However, my unknowing is not necessarily a loss—ultimately it is the opportunity for continual discovery, surprise, and growth.

“The Obligations of Memory” is a wedding gift to my husband, Dejan Panti.

Other works by Kyle Bartlett:
“Once when father (George Ives) was asked: 'How can you stand it to hear old John Bell (who was the best stonemason in town) bellow off-key the way he does at camp-meetings?' his answer was: 'Old John is a supreme musician. Look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don't pay too much attention to the sounds. If you do, you may miss the music. You won't get a heroic ride to Heaven on pretty little sounds!'”
--Charles Ives