Blog

Trinity

Work Type: Classical, Orchestral

Instrumentation: String orchestra

Duration: 10 min

1. CP-1
2. Centrifuge
3. Hex

Trinity is inspired by the world’s first nuclear test, conducted as part of the Manhattan Project. Growing up in the 1980s during the last stages of the Cold War, I spent a good chunk of my childhood expecting to die in a nuclear conflagration, during which I developed a lifelong fascination with nuclear physics, and the atomic bomb in particular. Decades later, that fear is alive again, dredged up by recently released beautiful, terrifying footage of early nuclear weapons tests, and resurrected by our unstable, belligerent leadership.

CP-1 stands for Chicago Pile-1, the first artificial nuclear reactor, which was built in secret inside a squash court at the University of Chicago, and used to conduct experiments to validate theories about the construction of the atomic bomb. Because nuclear fission changes one element to another, and can — in a loose sense — be considered modern-day alchemy, I was inspired by the concept of transmutation, as well as by broader ideas of chain reactions and decay.

In the opening movement, I treat the orchestra as a percussion ensemble: the players begin by hitting and tapping their instruments, and gradually shift into playing with their bows, transforming form a sparse, pointillist texture to a denser, heavier sound. CP-1 alternates between music that grows and intensifies and music that interrupts and dissipates the energy built up; as the movement builds, the intensifying sections are slowly compressed and eroded until they disintegrate.

A centrifuge is a device that rotates at extremely fast speeds to separate out different parts of an agglomeration of substances. While composing Centrifuge, I thought of not just the physical act of spinning, but the idea of distillation, of extracting something valuable; in the music itself, a somber string quintet gradually emerges from a dizzying, hyperkinetic texture.

The third movement is named for Hex, short for uranium hexafluoride, a compound used in the process of enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors; I was also influenced by a different meaning of the word, a supernatural curse, or malediction. While composing “Hex”, I imagined (among other things) a host of machines interlocking to assemble an implacable force of destruction, spreading corruption and dread.