Claudia Molitor's 'Decay': An evolving and reflective meditation on life's work-in-progress

What is a musical work? When we listen to a live performance of a symphony, is what we're hearing really the work itself, or merely a copy or representation of some imaginary work that exists somehow immaterially, and eternally? Does the musical work reside in the printed score, which governs and informs any future performance? And, when the conductor raises his baton for the first time, is he taking part in an act of creation, or reproduction, or both? Where is the work itself?

The concept of the musical work has to a certain extent dominated the canon of Western classical music since at least the late eighteenth century (although some would date it much earlier) when musical production shifted towards the creation, performance, and reception of individual works. One of the most exciting and innovative characteristics, however, of new and experimental music is its tendency to question and challenge any kind of dominant or authoritative dogma, such as the long-held tenet that the composers create the works, performers perform the works, and the public receives the works.

Decay, conceived by composer Claudia Molitor, is a contemplation. Through its unique process, it opposes any notion of a fixed work, while also offering an evocative allegory of life through its references to change, transformation, and reflection. The piece's title, for Molitor, is not so much an allusion to mortality or to corruption, but more a portrait of 'decay' as a melancholic, nostalgic, and bittersweet process, "be it the fermentation process of food, the patina of treasured furniture, the warm sounds of an old cello, the worn steps of an ancient building, the colourful leaves in autumn or the signs of aging on a friend’s face that make them uniquely and beautifully themselves".

Its process is simple: while Molitor herself and collaborator Tullis Rennie are constants in each performance, they are joined in each instance by one or more guest artists, each of which will bring their own creative practice to the piece. In a sense, the performers are as involved in the work's creation as Molitor and Rennie. Each iteration will then form the basis of the next performance, in such a way that the 'original' work is eroded and transformed through a year-long process of decay. This process is generative, resulting in "an ever-evolving multi-authored work", stripped of any artistic dogma. Eventually, its transformations will arrive at non-existence.

At this year's soundfestival, Molitor and Rennie will be joined by local composer Pete Stollery, who will complement their piano and trombone layers with electroacoustic sounds using Ableton Live. The concert will also feature video projections and a fixed-media turntable supplying material from previous iterations of the work. Working from a very rough score, the trio will meet for the first time mere hours before the concert to put together this most recent version of Decay, before it continues its journey back to hcmf// in November.

Decay was produced by hmcf// and supported by PRS Foundation's Composers' Fund.

For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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