PuSh Blog

Composer David Lang on the so-called laws of nature

January 22, 2010

The so-called laws of nature by David Lang will be performed as part of the 2010 PuSh Festival with Music on Main on January 24 & 25, 2010.

“… I spent much of my undergraduate years studying math and chemistry and physics, hanging out with future scientists [and] eavesdropping on their conversations. I remember a particularly heated discussion about a quote from Wittgenstein: ‘at the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanation of natural phenomena.’ This quote rankled all us future scientists, as it implied that science can’t explain the universe but can only offer mere descriptions of things observed.

Over the years it occurred to me that this could be rephrased as a musical problem. Because music is made of proportions and numbers and formulas and patterns I always wonder what these numbers actually mean. Do the numbers themselves generate a certain structure, creating the context and the meaning and the form, or are they just the incidental by-products of other, deeper, more mysterious processes?

My piece the so-called laws of nature tries to explore the ‘meaning’ of various processes and formulas. The individual parts are virtually identical — the percussionists play identical patterns throughout, playing unison rhythms on subtly different instruments. Most of these instruments the performers are required to build themselves. Some of the patterns between the players are displaced in time, some are on instruments which have a kind of incoherence built into their sound. Does the music come out of the patterns, or in spite of them? I am not sure which, but I know that this piece is as close to becoming a scientist as I will ever get.

The so-called laws of nature was commissioned by and is dedicated to So Percussion Group.”

– David Lang

Click here to watch a video with So Percussion about the so-called laws of nature on vicfirth.com

Click here to watch a performance of the so-called laws of nature with So Percussion on vicfirth.com

Visit Music on Main online

So Percussion plays Steve Reich and David Lang is part of the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is presented with Music on Main. January 24 & 25, 2010 at 8pm, Heritage Hall. Click here for full details.

Photo of David Lang, NYC © Peter Serling 2002