THE BOOK OF INGENIOUS DEVICES (2009)
for flute, clarinet, piano, 2 percussions, violin, viola and cello
The title of the piece is taken from a 9th century book by three Persian brothers (Ahmad, Muhammad and Hasan bin Musa ibn Shakir), working in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, a major intellectual center of the Islamic Golden Age. The book is hailed as one of the most important achievements of medieval Islam. It contains detailed and illustrated descriptions of about one hundred devices, most of which are early models of what we use today, including the earliest known model of a mechanical musical instrument. This work is a fascinating example of the interfaces between the East and the West; an essential node in the circulation of knowledge from ancient Greece to the Middle East in medieval ages, finally finding an audience in Early Renaissance Europe.
Taking its cue from this strange collection of bizarre instruments, The Book Of Ingenious Devices plays with the idea of assembling relatively complex structure from simple elements. Just like a watch, made up of numerous small and basic parts, the piece is constructed almost entirely from quite simple musical elements, such as lines and dots. They form more elaborate mechanical structures through the trajectory of the piece although none of them achieve ultimate perfection in their construction. The piece cycles through these little automata until they accumulate into the most elaborate form at the end but that also comes with its own glitches just like the frustrating experience of building a mechanical device.
The score is availble through Babel Scores.