PRiSM 8³ | Dynamical Systems: Pendula

Composer: Simon Knighton, RNCM

Scientist: Professor Lasse Rempe-Gillen, Professor of Pure Mathematics, The University of Liverpool

Composer Simon Knighton shares the development of his piece at a PRiSM 8 cubed workshop 3 March 2020

This piece is a collaboration between Simon Knighton: a PhD researcher in composition at the RNCM, and Lasse Rempe-Gillen: Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of Liverpool whose main research interests are in dynamical systems and complex analysis.

An example of a dynamical system is a pendulum. The piece uses electronic production techniques and surround sound to create the ‘illusion’ that the ensemble is swinging around the audience. This is achieved by using a pre-recorded sample of the ensemble, which seamlessly overlaps with the live acoustic ensemble, and then starts to swing around the audience. A key feature of dynamical systems is that at a certain point they can become chaotic if certain conditions arise, and so, the climax of the piece uses pendulum motion that moves so fast that the sound becomes an unrecognisable, randomised blur of chaos.

Of the composition process, Simon says: “I began to decorate the electronic pendulums with acoustic instrumental writing that sways and flows in similar, if not so obvious ‘dynamic’ ways. This led to a quite different approach to the use of harmony within the piece: Recognising that the ‘time-based’ parameters such as rhythm and form were chiefly where the dynamical systems were musically represented, I attempted to juxtapose the ‘pure maths’ represented in these parameters with a harmonic approach that functions on a purely emotional level: an artistic representation of human responses to dynamic systems as they are found in nature. Examples of such systems are the embers flickering off a fire; the movement of a waterfall; a school of fish in a lake. Dynamical systems such as these can be both beautiful and terrifying: beautiful if viewed at safe distance, terrifying if one gets caught up in the relentless and entirely dispassionate chaos of their autonomous brutality.”

The team is in the process of designing and building a large 3D printed pendulum which will provide a visual accompaniment for the performance