Un segno nello spazio


for unaccompanied viola or cello (2010)



Program Notes

Italo Calvino’s 1964 short story “Un segno nello spazio” (A sign in space) is featured in the collection Le cosmicomiche (Cosmicomics). It’s one of the shorter stories in the book, but like most of them its sense of proportion is skewed, in that it covers a time period from before matter existed in the universe to presumably modern times, and somehow treats that as not really all that long a timeline.

The story is really difficult to summarize. As is typical of most of the characters in the collection, the character names are unpronounceable. The main character, Qfwfq, is floating along, formless in an empty universe and on impulse decides to create a sign so that when he passes through that area millennia later he’ll be able to see the sign again. What follows is a tale of his obsession with his sign, and his seemingly-endless conflict with Kgwgk, who not only tries to erase the original sign, but starts creating signs of his own. In the end, the universe seems to be completely made up of signs, which are everywhere: “In the universe now there was no longer a container and a thing contained, but only a general thickness of signs superimposed and coagulated, occupying the whole volume of space.” Qfwfq’s original sign is lost in a complex web of signs making up the universe.

My piece is really not an attempt to retell this story in its entirety. I don’t think it’s possible. Qfwfq, as a character, appears in many forms in the stories of Cosmicomics, and his (generally a “he”) strong individuality matched well as a starting place for me to work on an unaccompanied solo work, something I don’t often do.

Jason Barabba

Jason V. Barabba is a composer and non-profit arts administrator in Los Angeles. As a composer he has an affinity for collaboration, especially with authors (living and dead) whose work inspires thoughtfulness, intelligence, and emotional investment in the listener. He prefers to tell a story with his work even when there’s no text or specific drama indicated. In a nod to his theatrical side, he frequently incorporates text spoken by singers, actors, and instrumentalists, to convey his ideas.   Works by a diverse range of authors including Ursula K. Le Guin, Tao Lin, Helen Keller, Herman Melville, Christopher Durang, David Bartone, Terry Pratchett and even his own father and great aunt have all inspired his compositional process. Le Guin has said of Barabba’s work, “Some composers use words as raw material. Like Schubert or Vaughan-Williams, he collaborates with them…the texture of the music and the tension in it are wonderfully effective; it’s spare and airy, but strong.”

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