Three musicians are sitting in a bar . . .

. . . in Austria. At 3:00AM. The topic turns to “Funny titles for music”. We aren’t talking about the usual titles like “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Somebody Who Will” by Warren Zevon, “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang” by Monte Video and the Casettes, or “Satan Gave Me a Taco” by Beck. We are throwing out titles that could put you into a major existential crisis. Unfortunately, only one stuck with me, “The Negative Space of Speed” that I subtitled “A Musical Null Set“.

Returning from Austria I felt that this title/subtitle needed to actually exist as a piece of music. What I soon realized is there is no possible combination of pitches, rhythms, dynamics, and tempi that could adequately describe this piece. The title implies “not music” or the absence of music. From this realization I managed to score the work for a full wind symphony (minus the piano and harp).

The beauty of the work is its flexibility. It requires NO rehearsal, can be played with ANY combination of wind and percussion instruments, and the musician’s skill level is completely irrelevant. It can also be used to pad an otherwise sparse concert repertoire.

Let’s say that you’ve programmed your concert for six works. But one of the works will have to be cut. There are any number of reasons this could happen:

  • you discovered that you don’t have performance rights to the work
  • the guest soloist turns out to be a serial killer and is arrested the day before the performance
  • the Fire Marshall rules that you can’t play your pyrophone in the concert hall
  • or, the band just can’t play the music.

No problem. Pull the work and replace it with “The Negative Space of Speed“. Your program still has six works and it appears you’re playing a cool Avant-garde 21st century work. Which you are . . . at least conceptually.

Please note that this is not an homage to (or blatant ripoff of) 4’33”, John Cage’s work that explores the idea that segments of time can be filled with structured or ambient sound (noise). Both can be considered music. Additionally, Cage was interested in the behavior of the audience and how their actions contribute to the music.

The Negative Space of Speed” plays with the idea of zero duration. Without duration there can be no music – structured or otherwise. BUT oddly enough, there can still be performance. The conductor turns the page to the score, cues the ensemble, and the audience eagerly anticipates the downbeat of this new piece. What they don’t realize is they missed the piece entirely and the downbeat is for the next work on the list (probably “First Suite in E-flat for Military Band” by Gustav Holst). While this may not cause a near riot as did the premiere of Stravinsky’sThe Rite of Spring” it hopefully will fuel a lively audience discussion of what constitutes music.

And yes, you too can add “The Negative Space of Speed” to your repertoire. The perpetrators of this work have decided to make it a free download!! Just click here.



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