The infinite melody of the number Pi

Anyone looking for the squaring of the circle often ends up in poetry. Or in music, such as Squaring the Circle by Heleen Van Haegenborgh, which premiered last Saturday at Zindering, the festival around the sound of silence in Mechelen, Belgium. The performance was in the hands of the percussion ensemble GAME.

The piece for four percussionists and electronics was inspired by Johan De Wilde’s Pi series of drawings. Mathematicians have a special relationship with this number because Pi makes the concept of infinity tangible. Partly for this reason, attention has also been paid to the visual aspect, an essential prop in contemporary classical music. Behind the players, an immense reproduction of one of Johan de Wilde’s Pi works was hung. The vertical multi-coloured strips formed an attractive backdrop for the four installations of silver-coloured tubular bells, also vertical. Even the time-honoured smoke machine has been used to visually underline the fact that the number Pi cannot be grasped except by touch.

The composition begins with a babbling, rushing brook along which the listener is immediately drawn into an inexplicable peacefulness. In this first passage, the performers exercise themselves in the infinity of the pianissimo. Ultra-soft bows caress cymbals and the vibraphone, here a tap on a wood block, there a minuscule movement with clubs, or a hesitant stroke along a metal plate. In the meantime, the electronics shuffle in long consonants, and a misty pedal tone forms. Light and dark take shape through a tenuous recorder and grated low registers of the tubular bells. The result is an infinity that is nevertheless provided with structuring elements, albeit carefully and precisely. Caution is provided by a gong that dies away, precision by the rhythmic buzzing of insects.

The tension of the composition is given relief by a long fortissimo, consisting of a combination of rolls of the Turkish drum and the kettledrum, sharp attacks of the gongs, tearing grinding movements of the metal plates, furious rolls of the tubular bells with now and then a primal scream from the electronics. This infernal series of explosions and rains of bullets has, however oddly, an organisational function.  The circle is challenged here by the quadrature. The result of that fight is the restraint that necessarily follows.

The final movement is a mixture of sweet-voiced rolls on the vibraphone, with barely perceptible strokes of the gongs, subtle taps with the side of the hammer on the tubular bells and vague gestures on the edges and sides of the big drums. The sounds slowly turn into the dripping of a zinc drainpipe, ever quieter, ever slower until nothing is audible to us humans. What remains is a strong suspicion of infinity, of poetry.

WHAT: Squaring the Circle for 4 percussionists and electronics by Heleen Van Haegenborgh

WHO: GAME (Aya Suzuki, Anita Cappuccinelli, Lucas Messler, Federico Tramontana)

SEEN: 11 December, Nona Arts Centre, Begijnenstraat 19, Mechelen

IMAGE: Johan De Wilde

ORGANISATION: Zindering festival, Mechelen, 9-13 December 2021


PHOTOS: Wynold Verweij

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