Moments of Doubt

Media performance, 2020

Work for an amplified, low-pitched instrument, played back in a multichannel array of speakers

Written for bassist, Robert Black
Commissioned by The Ned and Frances Black Fund

“Moments of Doubt” started as a close collaboration between Marcel Zaes and Robert Black, after Marcel had heard Robert’s recorded performance of the extremely reduced and rhythmic double bass work “Opus 17a” by Hanne Darboven, played over speakers in the galleries of Dia:Chelsea back in 2017. The relentlessness, steadiness and machine-like quality of Robert’s performance, which is yet emotionally charged, was the beginning of their collaboration. Commissioned to write a new work specifically for Robert Black, Marcel started to imagine a body of machinic, electronic music – which normally Marcel calls his home – yet in this case, an entirely instrumental body of sound with no actual electronics. The machinic component is reduced to an array of algorithmically generated metronomes at different subdivisions of the main temporal unit. The double bassist, in “Moments of Doubt,” is then asked to play along these various metronomes while playing extremely fragile double stops, which lie somewhere in the middle between noise and tone – in a realm that again is inspired by electronic sound practices. The micro deviations that occur between the salient double bass patterns and the rigid inaudible metronomes, and the micro deviations between the various double stops, result in what Marcel and Robert were looking for: an overly fragile landscape of steady sound that is both reminiscent of some hidden mechanical force, and of the human traces created in the reenactment thereof. From the beginning, “Moments of Doubt” had been conceived as a multiplication of that human performer: Robert plays five voices, which were successively recorded and now materialize all around us in the multichannel speaker array, giving rise to a spatial rather than temporal sonic texture.

Pictures: Loudspeaker only premiere at CT:SWAM at Fridman Gallery, New York City, 2020 (5-channel concert version without live bass)

Composed by Marcel Zaes
Double bass performed by Robert Black
Commissioned by The Ned and Frances Black Fund
Recorded by Lee Gilboa

Full duration: 35 minutes, 5-8 channels
Short version: 25 minutes, 5-8 channels

First shown at CT:SWAM at Fridman Gallery, New York City, 2020
Live premiere with Robert Black at Bang On A Can Live (online) in 2021