Charles Shere: Handler of Gravity
1971
organ with optional chimes and glockenspiel
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score: Ear Press, one large-format sheet, e-mail for information
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Handler of Gravity was composed in 1971 as the centerpiece of a concert of instrumental music from an opera, then in progress, based on Marcel Duchamp's painting La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (usually translated as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even). Duchamp provided his painting with an extensive "commentary" in the form of notes, sketches and memos; and Handler of Gravity is based on one of these.

The "handler" was to influence the Bride's decisions by responding to changes in a sort of gravitational field the details are unclear, and in any case the handler was ultimately left out of the painting.  Duchamp's note is accompanied by a sketch of a six-pointed star-shape surrounding a spheroid body; the six points represent points from which threads would stretch toward the central body, defining its location and shape by their tension.

Six systems of music, each lasting about a minute, were conceived as both linear and textural analogues of these threads.  The unsynchronized repetitions and reinforcements in the music was meant to represent the variations and displacements of physical bodies caused by gravitational disturbances.

Much of this was suggested by the curious rhythmic disturbances which frequently characterize organists or, rather, their performances. The result is a rather different kind of organ writing, a sort of comporomise between standard notation and a kind of tablature; the hope is to ensure an idiomatic organ character by harnessing the little clumsinesses of the instrument.

The organist must be the central body who determines but also is subject to these disturbances by realizing the music as accurately as possible (with respect to dynamics and pitch) while altering "rhythm" by responding to the difficulty of fingering (and footing), to the acoustical circumstances of the room, to the registration possibilities (themselves determined by octave location and dynamic), etc., etc.

There have been three quite different adaptations of the original score, each about eight minutes in duration:

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rev. 10/15/00