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Dance of the Neutron Stars : for alto saxophone and guitar

by Andrián Pertout (2021)

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Work Overview

Dance of the Neutron Stars was commissioned by the Japan Federation of Composers (Tokyo, Japan) in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Japan Federation of Composers (JFC) and 50th Anniversary of the Asian Composers' League (ACL). The title is a borrowing from Brian Clegg's 'hot science' book "Gravitational Waves: How Einstein's Spacetime Ripples Reveal the Secrets of the Universe" (2018), and the work serves as an exploration of the post-tonal harmonic possibilities within the twelve-note chromatic scale as presented by Elliott Carter in his monumental publication of the "Harmony Book", as well as the musical implications of indeterminacy in direct relation to the astronomical phenomenon of gravitational waves, or "ripples in the fabric of space and time." The story begins in 1974, when American radio astronomers Russel Hulse and Joseph Taylor (utilizing the Arecibo radio telescope located in Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory that features an extremely large 305-metre-diameter dish, and which up until 2016 was the world's largest telescope) discover PSR1913+16 - a "strange pulsar 21,000 light years away from Earth" that much to their surprise emits pulses that speed up and slow down. A pulsar (the first [PSR B1919+21: a pulsar with a period of 1.3373 seconds and a pulse width of 0.04 seconds] discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell at the University of Cambridge on 28 November 1967) may be defined as "a highly magnetized rotating compact star (usually neutron stars but also white dwarfs) that emits beams of electromagnetic radiation out of its magnetic poles." According to Clegg, pulsars are "fast-spining neutron stars giving off radio waves in lighthouse beams that appear on Earth as a series of high-speed blips in the radio spectrum." A neutron star, which consists of only neutrons is the "collapsed core of a massive supergiant star, which had a total mass of between 10 and 25 solar masses, possibly more if the star was especially metal-rich," and interesting is the fact that because these 'stars' rotate at immense speeds with "frequencies that range from seconds down to just a few thousandths of a second" means that they have a 'day' that is just milliseconds long. In 1993 Hulse and Taylor shared the Nobel in Physics for 'the discovery of a new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened new possibilities for the study of gravitation,' or as Clegg explains: "Specifically, they were able to deduce the presence of gravitational waves from their observation of a pulsar with variable rotation rates," adding that "PSR1913+16 was a pulsar that didn't have a constant 'tick' rate, but sped up and slowed down every few hours." 'Dance of the Neutron Stars' presents an artistic depiction of the astronomical concept of gravitational waves via its incorporation of algorithmically-derived probabilistic consecutive events of rhythmic tension and release, which in physics may be described as positive and negative velocity: "an object speeding up (velocity and acceleration pointing in the same direction) and slowing down (velocity and acceleration pointing in opposite directions)."

Work Details

Year: 2021

Instrumentation: Alto saxophone in E flat, acoustic guitar.

Duration: 7 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by the Japan Federation of Composers (Tokyo, Japan) in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Japan Federation of Composers (JFC) and 50th Anniversary of the Asian Composers’ League (ACL)

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