FRACTAL KENNINGS (2019) - for orchestra

Reading: Aspen Music Festival Conducting Academy Orchestra, July 15th, 2018


Duration:  ca. 7 min


Instrumentation: 3333/4331/timp/3 perc/harp/keys/strings


Program Note:


A “kenning” is a literary technique frequently employed by Old Norse poets to replace a single word using an expanded artistic representation of that word—i.e. cheek-forest (beard), helmet-stump (head), dripping hall (sky), mane of the planes (woods), spirit-enclosure (chest), and so on. Reading Snorri Sturluson’s Poetic Edda inspired me to consider what a musical version of a kenning could be.

In Fractal Kennings, I present a cantus firmus—with an A and B section—in the horns and reiterate and expand it. Each time the original melody is present with new orchestrational variations, I freely replace a note in the original melody with a pattern of notes that end on the original note that sounded, lengthening the melody. In the next repetition of the melody, I run the same process again on the longer, modified melody. As the melody expands over the course of the composition, smaller melodic motives begin to reflect larger melodic motives. This is similar to a fractal, where larger geometric structures repeat inwards infinitely as you view detail in the fractal. Each time the melody repeats, it is like “zooming in” on a Mandelbrot or Julia fractal graphic—more notes, and more details, are present. My musical kennings are a loose system, as I choose them freely and artistically like in Norse poetry, giving the expanding structure some breath and variation.

In addition to following this process to compose the melodies, I create an atmosphere with the piece—a mixture of swirling science fiction sounds (the fractal) and a primal, ancient sound with fifths and fourths (the kennings).

With Adam Buxbaum after the reading of "Fractal Kennings" with the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra