- Andrew Norman
I have never been more stuck than I was in the winter of 2008. My writing came to a grinding halt in January and for a long time this piece languished on my desk, a mess of musical fragments that refused to cohere. It was not until the following May, when I saw a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and remembered one of its iconic sentences, that I had a breakthrough realisation. The sentence was this: “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time,” and the realisation was that the lack of coherence in my ideas was to be embraced and explored, not overcome.
I realized that my musical materials lent themselves to a narrative arc that, like Vonnegut’s character, comes “unstuck” in time. Bits and pieces of the beginning, middle, and end of the music crop up in the wrong places like the ashbacks and ashforwards that de ne the structure and style of Slaughterhouse-Five. I also realized that the word “unstuck” had resonances with the way that a few of the piece’s musical ideas get caught in repetitive loops. The orchestra, perhaps in some way dramatising my own frustration with composing, spends a considerable amount of time and energy trying to free itself from these moments of stuckness. Unstuck was commissioned by the Orpheum Foundation and premiered by the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich on 9 September 2008 with Michael Sanderling conducting.