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zeroPoints (1999) texts

Towards the zeroPoints

I wrote this orchestral piece on commission for the London Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Boulez in 2000. It is an unusual task, a special honour for a composer-conductor to write music for another composer-conductor.
Since the eighties I have often conducted Boulez´ Domaines, and I still wonder why he begins bar-numbering with O instead of the accustomed 1. Out of respect for the master I dared only aim at the interspace between O and 1, thus the titles of the movements run from 0.1, 0.2, ... to 0.9, without ever reaching the number 1.

zeroPoints has other personal associations as well. Nostalgic memories bind me to the audio recordings of the fifties and sixties - the years of my childhood - which formed and determined my musical thinking in a fundamental way. Technical noise was a natural by-product of recording, of the audio technology of that time. These sound-memories appear in several of my works - for example, the hissing and crackling of old LPs at the end of the movements of Atlantis. The "tape-noise" imitation at the beginning of zeroPoints derives from the same source - but today, in the age of faultless technology, it had to be produced artificially, using double-bass tremolos. The clarinet signals that start the piece correspond to the 1kHz countdown sinus signals used in film music recordings.
This, too, leads to the zero point: 3-2-1-0, and thus music starts from zero...

Peter Eötvös

Programme note by Paul Griffiths

This is music for a new age (if not New Age music), music of initiations. ŤSince the 1980sŤ, the composer has said, ŤI have conducted Domaines by Pierre Boulez and have always been deeply impressed by his "figure zero" in the score. In zeroPoints I composed several "zero figures" and stopped before reaching the "figure I". The topical importance of this piece is quite obvious: a chain of beginnings, of successive starting moments, of overtures - in order to leave the zero point of the new millennium in a rather different way, suggesting only which direction it might take.Ť There are eight zero points, of which the first begins as a 1kHz beep on E flat clarinet and rapidly develops through loud, vivid gestures into a dance. This freezes to leave a chorale in low and very low wind instruments (not counted as a start: perhaps a premature ending), after which comes a bubbling up to a fast, loud, angular inception from strings and percussion, with occasional staccato chords from the wind. When this is over, it recommences as it had before, except that this time what develops is a moto perpetuo for wind and percussion with string interruptions. Suddenly brass and tam-tams, fortissimo, start the fourth inauguration, which is taken over by breezy music, quieter and quieter. The fifth opening - complex-textured, fantastical and short - is in the treble register. The sixth is for chiming percussion over slow-moving low chords. The seventh is kicked off by the beeps again, but faster and leading in another direction, towards music of tremolandos, trills and outbursts. The final outset brings a reinjection of activity from piano, harps and percussion, leading to a race to the finish - a race the composer can be presumed to have won by completing his score just four days before the end of the 1900s.