Four Critical Models (2009)

12 minutes
Alto Saxophone, Violin
Commissioned by the Second Instrumental Unit for David Fulmer and Eliot Gattegno


I. Catchword: A Modernists’ ‘Dilemma’
II. Intervention: Une Musique Informelle
III. Catchword: An Oriental(ist) Model
IV. Intervention: A Dialectical Synthesis


The Four Critical Models are comprised of two catchwords and two interventions. The controversial catchwords are mediated by the intervention so that the structure of the four movement piece is: catchword/ intervention/catchword/intervention.

Each of the four models take, as their point of departure, a thought or musing that is open to question. The four quotes, placed above each model in the score are:

I. Catchword: A Modernists’ “Dilemma”

“I think you can understand why those of us who dare to attempt to make music a much as it can be rather than as little as one can get away with- music’s being under the current egalitarian dispensation- and who’ve entered the university as our last hope, our only hope, and ergo our best hope, hope only that we’re not about to be abandoned.”

— Milton B. Babbitt, The Unlikely Survival of Serious Music

II. Intervention: Une Musique Informelle For John Heiss

The problem, however, is not to restore the traditional categories, but to develop equivalents to suit the new materials, so that it will become possible to perform in a transparent manner the tasks which were formerly carried out in an irrational and ultimately inadequate way… The materials will emerge from every successful work they enter as if newly born. The secret of composition is the energy which moulds the material in a process of ever-greater appropriateness.

— Theodore . W. Adorno, Vers une Musique Informelle

III. Catchword: An Oriental(ist) Model For Ahmed Issawi

The European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of any ambiguity; he is a natural logician, albeit he may not have studied logic; he is by nature sceptical and requires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained intelligence works like a piece of mechanism. The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description. Although the ancient Arabs acquired in a somewhat higher degree the science of dialectics, their descendants are singularly deficient in the logical faculty. They are often incapable of drawing the most obvious conclusions from any simple premises of which they may admit the truth. Endeavor to elicit a plain statement of facts from any ordinary Egyptian. His explanation will generally be lengthy, and wanting in lucidity. He will probably contradict himself half-a-dozen times before he has finished his story. He will often break down under the mildest process of cross-examination.

— Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt

IV. Intervention: A Dialectical Synthesis

Modern thought and experience have taught us to be sensitive to what is involved in representation, in studying the Other, in racial thinking, in unthinking and uncritical acceptance of authority and authoritative ideas, in the socio-political role of intellectuals, in the great value of skeptical critical consciousness. Perhaps if we remember that the study of human experience usually has an ethical, to say nothing of a political, consequence in either the best or worst sense, we will not be indifferent to what we do as scholars. And what better norm for the scholar than human freedom and knowledge? Perhaps too we should remember that the study of man in society is based on concrete human history and experience, not on donish abstractions, or on obscure laws or arbitrary systems. The problem then is to make the study fit and in some ways be shaped by experience, which would be illuminated and perhaps changed by the study. At all costs, the goal of Orientalizing the Orient again and again is to be avoided, with consequences that cannot help but refine knowledge and reduce the scholar’s conceit. Without the “Orient” there would be scholars, critics, intellectuals, human beings, for whom the racial, ethnic, and national distinctions were less important than the common enterprise of promoting human community.

— Edward W Said, Orientalism Now

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