Work » Projects » on the attraction for felicitous amplitude 2015

Part of my attraction to cities, in particular older ones, is the element of accumulation that occurs as infrastructure is expanded, or abandoned and forgotten. This curiosity has been continuously excited during my fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (2014 -15).

One particular structure caught my attention is a large cistern (pictured left), likely Roman and from the second century (A.D.), that lies beneath the Villa Aurelia, where numerous concerts are staged each year, at the American Academy in Rome. The site spent a period of time forgotten, and was rediscovered by the head gardener in the 1950s. Over a series of extended visits to the cistern, I was been able to listen in on how the activity of how this relatively isolated and remote space fluctuates in response to aboveground weather patterns. I was especially intrigued by its soniferous qualities, and composed on the attraction for felicitous amplitude knowing that it would be premiered in the luxurious Sala Aurelia that lies just above it.

The musical content for on the attraction for felicitous amplitude was derived from field recordings in the space, as well explorations of the resonant frequencies of each of the chambers of the cistern. Though interlinked, each space yielded strikingly different sounds in response to the amount excavation in each chamber and the amount of water and ambient noise that sifted through its ancient walls.

Of particular interest to me was how a small sonic event – a water drop falling from the ceiling – can articulate a much greater space. The title of on the attraction for felicitous amplitude is derived from Gaston’s Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1958), in which he contemplates relationships between the vast and the intimate, and in particular the use of the word itself, “vast” in the work of Baudelaire. As Bachelard states, “…when one has become hypersensitive to this word, one sees that it denotes attraction for felicitous amplitude. Moreover, if we were to count the different usages of the word vast in Baudelaire’s writings, we should be struck by the fact that examples of its positive, objective use are rare compared with the instances when the word has more intimate resonances.”

on the attraction for felicitous amplitude was written for and premiered by Brooklyn Rider, and released on their album Spontaneous Symbols. Many thanks to Brooklyn Rider and Ariana Kim and Eric Jacobsen who premiered the piece at the American Academy in Rome.


string quartet and fixed media
Brooklyn Rider ·
Johnny Gandelsman · violin
Colin Jacobsen · violin
Nicholas Cords · viola
Michael Nicolas · cello