“Object” Music

What immediately stood out to me from David T. Little’s 2004 chamber orchestra work entitled “Natural Valuable Resources” was the apparent lack of the use of the passage of time as a valuable compositional element. From my perspective, “Valuable Natural Resources” is clearly defined as a piece of “object” music; it can be experienced in a similar fashion to the way in which we can turn a three-dimensional object over and over again in our hands, orbserving this object from different vantage points until we have learned all we can from its surface. What drives this sense of timelessness is the fact that the Little’s music seems to exist outside of the traditional use of compositional methods such as rhythm, melody and harmony to move the emotional narrative of the work forward. In fact, it seems to move nowhere at all. It is fundamentally stuck in time, while the collection of sounds, textures, timbres and auditory atmospheres wash over us as if we are studying a physical object, not unlike how we experience a piece of visual art in a museum. Each time the composer changes the timbre of the piece, or introduces a new texture on top of an existing one, it is as if we have turned this object in our hands to the other side, or directed our gaze to a different part of the canvas. We are now still viewing this same object, but simply from a different angle. The cohesiveness of the work as a whole benefits from this “object” technique. Upon a first blind listening, I would be led to believe that the whole piece is a study of the same imaginary physical object.

Through my listening, it seems to me that Little seems to value the way in which different musical textures interact with each other, often overlaying multiple, contrasting timbres which compliment each other only in an abstract sense. However, because the use of time as a compositional device — a hallmark of the Western classical music tradition — is not an essential element “Natural Valuable Resources”, could be interpreted as a departure from the expectations of the past. However, the label “classical” would likely apply to this composer’s music on any CD release or Spotify playlist. This label may present us with many false expectations as to what to listen for within this music, or how to listen to this music. I believe that in order to fully experience this music, one must radically change their previously held concept of what a musical “experience” entails. While Little’s music borrows many textures, orchestration techniques, timbres, colors and affects from the past, he uses them in a fundamentally different way. We are captivated as listeners by a shifting topography within a vast musical landscape, as if we have been placed in a physical world and we are only to observe what is happening around us. While some sections certainly imply (perhaps not purposefully) an extreme sense of urgency, there is overall a sense of freedom to explore this world in whichever direction you wish.

Chris Beroes-Haigis

Live recording accessed on 03/07/19 from:

Valuable Natural Resources

Performed by ensemble courage

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