Slow Cancellation (2020)

The piece is constructed out of fragments of three “lost pieces”: Nikolai Roslavet’s Piano Sonata no. 3, the ending of J.S. Bach’s Art of Fugue, and Julius Eastman’s Buddha. The first two of these are hypothetical impressions of what they would sound like. Roslavets belonged to the heady days of the 1920’s Soviet Futurist movement, which sought to abandon old traditions and create an entirely new artistic language. His third and fourth piano sonatas are lost. The Bach “excerpt” would belong to Contrapunctus XIV, the unfinished last fugue in The Art of Fugue that would have climaxed in the unbroken cycling of four themes in four voices. Eastman’s Buddha is one his last pieces, composed in 1984 while homeless. Although a real piece, its strangely laid out score is difficult to interpret, as he left no performance instructions. A discordant, serial “machine music” interrupts the collage of these pieces, along with sketches from an abandoned piece (from the composer) as a “second narrator”.

The title refers to concept of the “slow cancellation of the future”, a term coined by Franco Berardi in his essay, After the Future. This refers to the shrinking of the pool of “thinkable” ideas in wider culture, specifically outside of the hegemony of capital—a consequence of the wave of reaction that overtook the 1980’s. Among the targets of that counterrevolution was the concept of “future” itself as a goal to be accomplished (through a mass-movement or otherwise), replaced with the propagandised notion that “there is no alternative” and that history has ended. With that notion set in place, eventually the same ideas will be retread over and over, resembling the output of a procedural generation algorithm, code in a machine that supports, lubricates and justifies extreme inequality.

The lost pieces symbolise aspects of humanity that are “killed” by the grinding machine. Roslavets represents the ending of “the era in which people trusted in the future”, and by extension, the mass-movements that translated this idea into real action. Bach represents the idea of the past or “tradition”, painted as a towering master of intricate baroque masterpieces, but in fact tinted with the aesthetic of an unjust power structure, played on repeat in Port Authority Bus Terminal to instill fear in the homeless. Eastman represents the material consequences felt by real people. Left without the future and thrown away by a privileged artistic culture, however gifted a human life is ground into dust by the machine.

Slow Cancellation was composed for CULTIVATE 2020, Copland House’s emerging composers’ institute, and was premiered by the Music from Copland House ensemble.