Annals of the Former World

ENS.2022.1 | 16′
Large Orchestra:


I. Basin and Range

II. In Suspect Terrain

III. Rising From the Plains

Annals of the Former World

A Pulitzer Prize-winning book by the legendary author John McPhee, Annals of the Former World tells the complex story of the Earth’s geologic history. Introducing the concept of “deep time”—humanity’s gradual cognizance of our planet’s unimaginably vast chronology—McPhee captures the tectonic shifts of the continents alongside those of the (often eccentric) scientists who study them.

This eponymous work, for large orchestra, is not so much music about geology as music aspiring toward being geology. Instead of attempting to illustrate the sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous processes that shape the landscape around us, it takes these massive, slow mechanisms as metaphor—rather than depicting geology, the music strives to become rough-hewn rock itself.

Made of huge slabs of slowly moving sound, the musical materials—textures, rhythms, harmonies—gradually shift, deform, and transform, sliding against and subsuming one another, or slam violently together. Sometimes the music is molten, explosive; sometimes it barely seems to move at all, apparently stationary, still as the stones that surround us.

Though taking their titles from McPhee’s book, all three movements are entirely abstract, without external narrative, and all three movements are slow.