Drift (1992) - two channel fixed media
Transformation as a principle
Drift accumulated around a series of concerns which were brought into focus by the title. One of the initial forming principles was that the material of the work would gradually change from performance to performance. In this manner the identity of the work (insofar as this could be regarded as being congruent with the material) would drift, and it would therefore become a possibility that after a notional thirty performances the work might contain none of the material with which it had been initially released. On one level this was intended to be a play with the Derridan concept of ‘undecidability’, one of the key concepts of deconstruction, in which it is acknowledged that the final form of any text is always also an acknowledgement of what has been excluded, and that what has been excluded may be just as pertinent to any ‘meaning’ ascribed to the text as what is included. As the immense body of work which does not make its way into a completed ‘text’ (the hidden 90% of the iceberg) had been a matter of concern and interest to me in earlier works, this seemed to provide a theoretical framework in which the arbitrary finality of producing ‘a work’ with ‘an identity’ might be problematised in an interesting manner. This sense of arriving at meaning ‘against the grain’ seemed also to be embedded in the idea of ‘drift mining’, a manner of approaching the seam of the material slowly, at a tangent. Formally speaking, different 'seams' of material surface as the piece progresses, as though cutting through dense layers at a shallow angle. This linked with the original compositional intention in that the material could be 'mined' from different angles and from different entry points, resulting in a series of realisations some of which might conceivably contain no common material.
On a more personal level the idea of Drift grew out of an abiding interest in the work of visual artist Tom Phillips, for whom the concept of ‘series’ works has been a lifelong pursuit, and in particular of his work A Humument: a ‘treated’ Victorian novel (Phillips, 1980) in which each limited reprinting contains newly transformed pages, and omits some earlier material.
Another concern within ˜Driftˇ was that the piece would exhibit temporal ‘drift’ at all levels – a sort of structural self-similarity, from the formal level already mentioned – its status as a work – downwards to the microsonic level. The characteristic mode of movement between different sections of the piece is relaxed, and the transformations of sound material which occur within it are predominantly gradual (drifting). New sounds accrete to existing ones, or become detached, in a manner reminiscent of drifting snow (spindrift). Although not a primary consideration, Guy Debord’s notion of the derive – a psychogeographic technique of spontaneous ‘passage through various ambiences’ – often associated with urban landscapes - also informed the compositional process, ‘drift’ being the nearest term in English for derive.
In a sort of inbuilt commentary on the work’s play with the then current notions of contingency of meaning, the occurrence of the title in the colloquial phrase “do you catch my drift?”, proved sufficiently familiar to be identified unprompted by several anglophone audience members at a performance in Arras, France. Finally, in an ironic twist of fate which underlines the powerlessness of compositional intention in the face of the social consolidation of a musical work Drift was selected for the 1991 ˜Prix International Noroit/Léonce Petitotˇ, and its subsequent release on CD fixed its identity in a manner substantially at odds with its initial conception.