Date of Degree
Joseph N. Straus
Composition | Music Theory
Chaya Czernowin, Complexity, Contour, 24, Identity, Ina
Chaya Czernowin’s Ina (1988) for solo bass flute and six pre-recorded flute parts, unfolds the drama of a protagonist battling her conflicting inner voices. Czernowin interrogates the concept of identity and asks the questions—what is an identity? To what extent can a particular identity endure its own complexities? My analysis demonstrates how the growing levels of musical complexity represent the growing independence of Ina’s multiple inner voices, and how musical simplicity enables their unification. I present two oppositional forces: an intertwining force, and a splitting force. The intertwining force acts very much like a gravitational force in the musical domain—it condenses time, melodic intervals, and brings the polyphonic voices closer together. It also reshapes the musical material to create symmetries between the different voices that produce the polyphony. The splitting force, on the other hand, is powered by the inner voices’ complexity and differentiation growth. The inner voices’ strive for independence is represented by the increasing differences of previously shared musical characteristics among the pre-recorded flute parts, as well as by each part’s growing inner complexity. In this analysis I rely on, and further develop, contour theory to determine the level of complexity of the voices. I define hierarchy, in which the polyphonization potential of each contour determines its degree of complexity. Within this hierarchy, zigzagging contours are more complex than linear ones as they can yield at least two secondary lines, whereas linear contours are indivisible. I have also constructed a quartertonal voice-leading space for trichords; a mapped space in which adjacent set classes are connected by a quarter tone displacement of one note. This enables calculation of the level of differentiation between the inner voices and the protagonist. It also reveals how the set-classes used in the pre-recorded flute parts gradually become compressed into the smallest set-class on the quarter tonal set-class-space until they vanish into nothing, leaving the solo flute alone—and the protagonist with emotional emptiness. The paradoxical conclusion is that while the inner voices’ complexity threatens the integrity of the protagonist’s identity, they are also imperative to her existence. In Ina’s universe, identity is never formed, nor it is ultimately dissolved. Perhaps, like the phoenix, it is captured in a neverending cycle of composition, decomposition, and re-composition.
Kohl, Eliav, "Identity and Complexity in Chaya Czernowin’s INA" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.