Atoms of Silence for Symphony Orchestra, no. 444 (2017-2018)
‘Atoms of Silence’ was commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC and especially composed for the Australian Discovery Orchestra (ADO), and is dedicated to American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, and author Carl Edward Sagan (1934-1996).
“Atoms are mainly empty space. Matter is composed chiefly of nothing,” states Sagan in Cosmos (1980), to then explain that “…beyond a single atom we confront an infinity of the very small. And when we look up at the night sky we confront an infinity of the very large.
These infinities are among the most awesome of human ideas. They represent an unending regress which goes on not just very far, but forever…” The actual title has been derived from Atoms of Silence: An Exploration of Cosmic Evolution (1981) by French Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves CC OQ, which in turn was derived from a line from the poem Palme by the French Symbolist poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945).
“Chaque atome de silence / Est la chance d’un fruit mûr!: Every atom of silence / Is the chance for a ripened fruit!” According to Reeves, at the essence of this statement is the proposition that the “epic cosmic organization is structured in time. Every second, something ripens a little. Nature does its work in secret and blossoms in its own good time.”
In a chapter about music, contained in Atoms of Silence: An Exploration of Cosmic Evolution (1981), and entitled ‘Music from the Start’ Reeves explains that, “in order to write music (in the literal sense of the word), the composer chooses a certain number of elementary tones. He then places them in a particular sequence that will unfold in time. If these tones have been chosen randomly, and if there is no relation between a tone and the ones that preceded it and follow it, we have ‘noise.’ If they are ordered according to a particular structure, whether that of J.S. Bach or that of the Beatles, we have music. There is an infinite number of ways to make noise, but a much more limited number of ways to make music.”