NOTHING THAT IS, THE



Performed By: Thomas Jones, baritone; the MIT Chamber Chorus, William Cutter, conductor

Movements:
Part I. Logos Part II. To Zero Part III. Pure Zero Part IV. Ad Astra Per Aspero

Instrumentation:
Baritone, 2 speakers (backstage, amplified), child’s voice (on-stage, amplified), SATB chorus, flute/piccolo, oboe, Bb clarinet, horn, bassoon, percussion [vibraphone, marimba, bass drum, tam-tam, orchestral bells, tubular bells, suspended cymbal, Chinese gong, (small and medium), timpani, roto-toms], piano/synthesizer (4 hands), violin, cello, double bass

Text: Excerpts from Apollo 13 flight transcript, Psalms 90, 13, and 131, Ptolemy, John Donne, Charles Pierce, and John F. Kennedy (adapted L. Larsen)

Duration: 36 minutes

Commissioned By:
Brad and Dorothea Endicott for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Music and Theater Arts on December 12, 2000

Premiere:
May 8, 2004 by Thomas Jones, baritone; MIT Chamber Chorus and Ensemble, William Clinto Cutter, conductor, at MIT, Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, MA

Available From:
Oxford University Press, rented by C.F. Peters

Composer's Notes:
In our technological age, I’ve begun to wonder if our faith in number itself is inextricably entwined with our spiritual faith? We do, in fact, believe in infinity. We also believe in zero. Without zero, all the technology which services and drives our contemporary lives -- computers, engines, and the like is not possible. Travel in space is not possible were it not for our faith in zero and all that zero makes possible.
 
The Nothing That Is, for baritone solo, 2 narrators, chorus and chamber ensemble, is a contemplation of faith in supreme being through faith in numbers, in particular the mystical number zero. Telling the story of the Apollo 13 flight I wrought a libretto made up of excerpts from the Apollo 13 flight transcript and Psalms 90, 13, and 131 combined with excerpts from writings of Ptolemy, John Donne, Charles Pierce, and John F. Kennedy. Each of the vocal groups assumes a role: the baritone soloist as guide and provocateur; the narrators as astronauts and ground crew; the chorus as Greek Chorus, creating the quality of infinity in space, giving the countdown for the launch and singing settings of the Psalms.
 
The composition is in four parts story form. Part I, Logos, reveals zero in its ancient, non-Western role. The text contemplates the first line of the Bible, “In the Beginning there was…” interpolating into the sentence the original Greek word “logos” which means ‘word’ but also means ‘ratio’. The ratio of 00/00 is impossible, yet 0 exists ad infinitum. Part II, To Zero, places us at the launch site of Apollo 13, during the countdown to 00:00. Here, 0 is both positive and negative, both anticipatory and terminating. Part III, Pure Zero, frames the astronauts’ dilemma as their technology fails them and they rely on faith in the position of the stars for survival. Finally, in Part IV, Ad Astra Per Aspero, a resolution is reached found in the message of Psalm 13 -- “But I have trusted in Thy grace”.

— Libby Larsen
 
To rent this piece, please visit C.F. Peters.