Composer Andrew Waggoner commissioned by Syracuse University Soft Matter Program

Excited about this unique collaboration! Composer Andrew Waggoner was commissioned to write a new work for the JACK Quartet by the Syracuse University Soft Matter program for their upcoming Active and Smart Matter Conference, June 20-23, 2016! The new piece, named Hexacorda Mollia, is inspired by the theme Order from Disorder that permeates soft matter physics. The world premiere on June 22 at 8pm, details here.

The commission gave me a chance to write for the JACK Quartet, and to revisit a long-standing interest in the sounding possibilities inherent in dynamical systems, in which order and disorder flow freely in, out of, and around each other in a constant stream of motion that is both logical and unpredictable. In the case of “soft” matter, this coalescing of order from disorder, and back again, takes many odd, unexpected and wondrous forms, from liquid crystals, like that of the cholesterol-B molecule (the first bit of “soft” matter identified), to icosahedral viruses, to polymers that act in a variety of weird ways when subjected to varying amounts of heat at moderate temperatures. As it happens, many of the shapes here, as well as the processes of their unfolding, are six-sided, or built out of accumulations of threes. The rather-too-60’s-sounding title, then, was irresistible: both the material and the large-scale shape of the piece are expressed in threes and sixes, whence “hexachords”; and in Medieval music the hexacordum molle, the “soft” hexachord, was the six-note diatonic scale in which the B had been flatted, resulting in a more acoustically relaxed, “softer” sound. Some may find the piece a little bright for the sobriquet to work, but what’s essential about the soft hexachord is that it’s been altered, it doesn’t trace the space between F and D without flatting the fourth scale degree; thus it represents a kind of treaty between the scale-as-it-is and the Western ear. So too the piece, rather than trying to render exactly the natural model in sonic form, puts the various soft phenomena in a decidedly human context: that of the excitement and stupefaction of discovery. This human gaze gives way at the conclusion, however, to soft matter on a cosmic scale, with the six-beat rhythmic figures from the opening augmented and spun into long lines of canon, as molecules give way to strings, and to the opening out into branes, multiverses, and the whole mind-bending conceit of contemporary cosmology.”
-Andrew Waggoner


The Jack Quartet: Deemed “superheroes of the new music world” (Boston Globe), the JACK Quartet is “the go-to quartet for contemporary music, tying impeccable musicianship to intellectual ferocity and a take-no-prisoners sense of commitment.” (Washington Post) “They are a musical vehicle of choice to the next great composers who walk among us.” (Toronto Star)