Rust and Stardust (2015)
for orchestra ( / / timp. / 4 perc. / harp / piano (=celesta) / strings []) [11:00]

Rust and Stardust is a piece about the malleability of memory. The title (the last three words of Humbert’s poem, late in Lolita) is a shorthand for two possible directions a remembered event can be recast: corrosion or romanticization. Once vivid memories fade with time, dulled through distance. Many are relegated to obscurity, while others are strengthened through retellings, with their dominant sensations engraved more deeply as their outlines are retraced, often at the expense of ancillary details. Most mystifyingly of all, pain can be transmuted into tenderness, loss and hurt into gilded reminiscences. Even the harshest experiences can take on a wistful aura through the lens of nostalgia.

The piece opens in a moment of heightened perception, immersed in the focused, lush sonorities of dilated time: sharp outlines, vibrant colors, pulsating chords that gradually come into starker contrast, arriving ever more quickly as we ease back into the flow of real time. But this accumulation of energy is unexpectedly thwarted. The bottom drops out; a rift is created, and that exuberant richness is no longer accessible, supplanted by a grey wash of noise and aimless patterns that turn in place.

The rest of the piece is spent trying to recover that initial vitality, to reinvigorate and string together fragments of the cordoned-off past. The moment of collapse is replayed repeatedly, gradually losing its jagged edges and loosening its grip, allowing new lines and shapes to emerge. Slowly the bridge is partially rebuilt, and a coherent narrative seems to coalesce. But the recovery is anything but steady: There are backward lunges, ruts like scratches in vinyl, that skip back to moments heard seconds before. There are sudden slips into fugue states, holding patterns of empty resonance, where all motion and development cease. And there are repetitions on multiple levels, a network of loops that either evolve or stagnate, often in many conflicting directions at once.

Then, a second, steeper crash. Memory breaks down. Recollected fragments become intrusive and involuntary. The wrong details, the insignificant background elements, are the ones that stick, magnified out of all reasonable proportion. Repetition becomes rote, obsessive, and pointless, and the frustration climaxes with a split: a fragile treble texture interrupted by shattering outbursts—waves which then soften and dissipate at a shocking rate, receding quickly into the corners of consciousness.