The Linearity of Light

Instrumentation 2(2nd dbl. picc.)/2(2nd dbl. Ehn)/2/2; 4/3/3/1; timp + 2 perc; harp; piano; orchestral strings
Percussion requirements (1) vib, chimes, med. tomtom, bass dr, susp. cymbal, 2 metal coffee cans, lg. tamtam, triangle, whip; (2) glock, 2 bongos, low tomtom, log dr, lion’s roar, tambourine, med. tamtam

Timing 12′

Composed 2003

Commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts

World Premiere October 4, 2003, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey, conductor

Performances by Vancouver Symphony (national/international tours), Okanagan Symphony, Brandenburger Symphoniker (Germany), Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra

Recorded by the Vancouver Symphony, conducted by Bramwell Tovey on Fugitive Colours: Music of Jeffrey Ryan

Programme Notes

Though as an orchestral work, The Linearity of Light exists in the world of sound, it finds its inspiration in the visual world -in the qualities, characteristics and properties of light. When we talk about music (and sound in general), we often use words borrowed from the visual sense. We refer to the “colour” of an instrument’s tone, or we describe a chord as “dark” or “bright”. Light, like sound, is intangible, and yet it is all around us, and can have a profound effect on our mental and emotional states.

I began by creating a list of many words and ideas associated with light, as I sat with my notebook and watched the sunlight dance on the waters of English Bay. The piece begins with an evocation of this shimmering and sparkling light, which gradually becomes transformed into a blinding beacon, in the form of a fortissimo unison, which reflects off imaginary mirrors in space and whose intensity leaves fading afterimages on the “retina” of the ear. Soon after, a short, soft dense chord from the full orchestra acts as a prism to the sound, breaking it up into a spectrum of pitches which first accompanies an extended English horn solo. This prism/spectrum idea becomes a recurring motif in the work, with various “colour filters” applied to the sound, allowing different combinations of pitches and instruments to pass through, creating first a warm, saturating kind of light, later a series of delicately shaded colours, and then (in the middle of the piece) a cold, pale light that accompanies a ghostly trumpet solo. A roar from the tam tams leads into the final section of the piece, suggestive of a blazing and penetrating light. In the closing gesture, the sound almost focuses again into a single beam, but at the last moment, the rays scatter off in all directions.

Reviews

Ryan’s The Linearity of Light turned out to be yet another orchestral showpiece, with its high-contrast shifts between crystalline tumults in strings and woodwinds, brutal rhythmic operations in the brass, and the intense unisons that periodically reinforced the theme stated in the title.…Ryan’s transitions from this single-pointed focus to various forms of prismatic difference were effective and witty, especially when the score slipped into a quasi-Brazilian bacchanal near the end. (Robert Everett-Green/Globe and Mail)

There was never a moment when the forward momentum flagged and the last episode was overwhelmingly commanding. (Richard Todd/Ottawa Citizen)

[The Linearity of Light] s’est amorcée sur des trémolos de cordes dont la puissance et la robustesse rappelaient assez l’action d’une ponceuse électrique. J’ose utiliser une telle comparaison non pour me moquer, mais plutôt pour tenter de faire sentir le caractère extrêmement direct, puissant et insistant du propos. D’ailleurs, l’écriture a beau paraître avant-gardiste, l’exécution convaincante et tout à fait inspirée servie par l’Orchestre et le chef a beaucoup plu à l’auditoire. (Richard Boisvert/Le Soleil)

…le compositeur contemporain Jeffrey Ryan est de ceux qui tentent avec assez de bonheur de convertir des idées abstraites…en quelque chose de moderne et d’écoutable. (Christophe Huss/Le Devoir)

…a bold experimentation with orchestration.…The result was a fascinating look at light through use of sound. (Anita Perry/Kelowna Daily Courier)

…a true tour-de-force.…The piece defies description. I can talk only of power, tonal range, textures and dynamics. It’s cosmic.…For me it was wonderful. (Jim Elderton/Vernon Morning Star)

PDF score excerpts

Linearity excerpt1  Linearity excerpt2   Linearity excerpt3

Audio excerpts

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