Spiral of the Galaxy (2017) is a three-movement work for horn sextet and percussion based off the sculpture of the same name by Marc Quinn. Quinn’s sculpture, an enormous bronze shell, fascinates me because it bridges the worlds of science and art, evoking questions about the natural world and how we humans fit into it. The piece of music reflects this theme by exploring the connection of the immenseness of the universe and the tiny spatial and temporal slice our planet inhabits in this vastness.
I. THE BIG BANG
“The Big Bang” illustrates the inception of the universe stemming from a singularity, represented by a solo horn playing a single note. The piece grows to a climax where the percussion section erupts in a violent explosion – the big bang. Eventually, the piece dies off to a soft rumble, representing the residual cosmic background radiation. In the aftermath, the first glimpse of a spiral galaxy forming appears briefly in the horns.
II. EXPANSION AND FUSION
In “Expansion and Fusion,” the swelling universe is constantly birthing new stars fueled by nuclear fusion. As nuclei combine to form more complex elements, the music evolves from a simple time signature (4/4) to a larger, more intricate one (11/8). In this moment, the genre of the music shifts to orchestral-jazz fusion to reinforce this theme. The jazz drum set is featured in the stylistic transition. At the conclusion of the movement, the spiral motive returns as a reminder of the single galaxy’s place in the ever-expanding universe.
III. HEAT DEATH
In approximately a googol years, according to our current understanding of thermodynamics, the universe will eventually exhaust all its usable energy, leaving only heat behind. Instead of depicting a (boring) scientific approach to the demise of the universe as described above, “Heath Death” illustrates an exciting, dramatic buildup (skipping a few eons) to the inevitable diminuendo of the cosmos.