No. 11 (re) for String Quintet and drone

A performance at the Rothko Chapel

Recently in my work, I have been often writing music that is site and time specific. I feel that music's power is often greatest when it acknowledges the time and place. It is a temporal and ephemeral art, that is less like a literary or artistic work. For me, music is an action that engages and communes performer and audience.

The age of the internet has brought us more music than ever, but it is all a la carte. The world of youtube, soundcloud, spotify, bandcamp, et cetera has situated music as “art object” in most people's mind. Live music consumption is the small minority of most people's musical experiences. These observations have led me to try to create musical pieces/ products/ events that are unique and memorable. I hope to make things that are really only fully experienced if seen live. So it is with some reservation that I share two of my recent works at Unlikely Stories. I hope the accompanying images and photographs will add to the presentation.

For me, the work of Mark Rothko demonstrates that his paintings are not depictions of experiences, but experiences themselves. In his late work, I feel that the artist has left the room, in a sense, and that he has put us alone with the canvas in order for us to become part of it. The materials themselves are themselves and the effect is one that does not transport us, but it enables us to have a valuable experience in our own reality. The time passed in viewing his work feels like “real” time. The experience grows and changes with us on our own scale. The size of such an object in our own reality (not an imagined landscape) is striking. The vastness of it intimidates me, and as I become comfortable in its presence and gaze, I begin to notice small details within it. These details are often seen individually or as participating in a dynamic motion across the whole painting. I am aware of the passing of time in the viewing because objects are "moving" or interacting with one another in a temporal way. Their interactions change and develop as viewing time progresses.

Nevertheless, the inertness or fixed nature of the medium suggests an obliviousness to time's passing. The possession of time within a (perceived) eternal vessel expresses the paradox of motion through an infinite time. In this way, the viewing experience is a manifestation of the metaphysical.



This work is a site‐specific commission for the Rothko Retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston that was made possible by Da Camera. In this work, I hope to “leave the room” as a composer and give the audience an interaction with sound and tone itself. Mark Rothko's work often focuses on a limited color palette that explores infinite variation. In my work, I have limited the pitch material to just the note “D”/re and musical intervals that can be expressed as pure fractions whose numerators or denominators are limited to the number 11. This creates a large number of harmonic resources (with over 20 interval possibilities per octave). There are many more notes per octave, but instead of being “fully chromatic” they are all only related to the note D/re. Therefore my raw materials cannot undergo modulation, they are merely other expressions of D/re. I have also provided a constant drone, a canvas, that reinforces the resonances of this audible color.

Players perform small gestures whose time is related to their own internal breath. Players are given approximate time lengths for gestures and move through the piece at their own pace as a form of meditation. It is my hope that the audience and players focus on the interactions of these small variations in pitch and experience the pure sound in the way that an observer of Rothko's work experiences the vastness of canvas and paint. And in doing so, they are immersed in an experience of color and sound that goes beyond verbal description.



Shane Monds

Shane Monds has composed music for traditional mediums such as choir and orchestra, film, micro‐tonal piano, art installations, Cajun fiddle, traditional Chinese instruments and much more. His music has been heard at a variety of venues ranging from St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican to the documentary film channel to the City Hall in Nafplio, Greece.

Shane has received major commissions from the Indianapolis Symphonic Chorus, The Louisiana Sinfonietta, HGOco (Houston Grand Opera Company), and the Vechhione/Erdahl Duo whose commission was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum. He is currently the Robert Yekovich Teaching Fellow at Rice University where he is pursuing a doctorate in composition.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 14:58