Apocalypticism in Music…

…might be another title for the topics gathered around my work on the electro-acoustic piece APOKATASTASIS (2020). Work and research on the piece began in Fall 2019. The research around this composition found expression in multiple modes; a talk for the VAPA Department of UCCS is in preparation, as well as a text on the literary backgrounds of the work (e.g., the Judaic and early Christian apocalyptic texts).

What follows is from a one-page note written for the composition:

APOKATASTASIS (2020), a new electro-acoustic work cast for ten players with computer-generated sound, owes a great debt to many conversations, readings, and social reflections revolving around themes of apocalypse. But these apocalyptic themes touch not only on that most dramatic narrative found in the New Testament vision of John, but also on those characteristics of the apocalyptic imagination unique to Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and particularly early Christianity. With such apocalyptic ideas as the background motivations to this music, APOKATASTASIS necessarily addresses topics of a numinous, or even mystical, nature, with many musically “mystical” detours along its address.

While a diversity of musical and literary ideas proliferate throughout this work, the word “apokatastasis” unveils (many of) the concerns of this music: springing from its Greek roots, the word has come to mean “to restore”, or “a return to an original state or position”. This latter usage turns up in early writings on astrology and astronomy, where the term describes the alternate destruction and recreation of the Universe based upon the return of planets and stars to their original celestial positions. For belief traditions, the term refers to a restoration not only of the Universe to its original state, but also to the restoration, or re-absorption, of beings and of individual souls, into the Divine Unity. The flux of existence from unity to dispersal and back describes a scheme evident throughout many occasions of our daily living, throughout the whole arc of our lives, and one which even figures widely in accepted cosmological models of the observable universe (e.g., the big bang and big collapse theories).

As a musical composition, APOKATASTASIS embodies its literary origins by expanding out from levels of atomic granularity to sweeping vistas of shifting sound colors and textures. And back again. While this profile describes the twenty-minute flow of the music, particularly with regard to the apocalyptical thrust, there exists also a psychological dimension which speaks to the work’s genesis: in and through the act of listening, the composer hopes that the quality of attention brought to the listening experience mirrors the waxings and wanings of the musical flow. In this way, the work not only describes and explains the apocalyptic themes with which it engages, but also re-produces, re-creates, and creates in the mind of the listener an apocalypse of attention. The listening attention undergoes a personalized apokatastasis of the ear.

Despite the linear ideas we find in literary apocalypse (i.e., a progression of epochs towards the end of times), the apokatastatic model embraced here outlines a circular structure, wherein the end recaptures the beginning – the music of APOKATASTASIS ends as it began. This may call to mind images of the tail-eating Ouroboros serpent, and more pertinently, any number of works from the Western music canon, from Guillaume de Machaut’s Ma Fin est mon Commencement in the 14th century, to Joseph Haydn’s Symphony Nr. 47 from the 18th, and even to Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Zurück of 1927. But the way in which the present work ends and begins proposes a yet further refinement of this idea, deploying a quasi-palindromic structure, known as a chiasmus, a rhetorical structure one may hear in Bach’s Mass in B minor, for example.

By embracing a diversity of influences, APOKATASTASIS creates a dynamic, multi-colored sonic tapestry, accessible at multiple entry points of interest. These musical and meta-musical considerations aside, however, it remains the experience of the music which counts the most. The conclusion of APOKATASTASIS does not constitute an end, or an end of times, or an end in any way, but points instead to a new future, to potentially many new futures, and to new Universes of musical meaning. – Jon Forshee