Nickitas Demos

So Small Against The Stars



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So Small Against The Stars (2016)

Nickitas Demos

I. ANGRY SKY - score preview

II. BLUE SUNSET - score preview

III. LONELY HEART - score preview

IV. PERSPECTIVE - score preview

Duration: 21'

Commissioned by Chamber Cartel

This piece was inspired by a series of astronomic events and discoveries that took place in 2015. While certainly not the first composition written about the cosmos, I was moved to create the work after viewing several beautiful photographs released during the year. In contemplating these photos, I was reminded of a lyric by Leonard Cohen: We are so small against the stars, so large against the sky from the song Stories of the Street. The title of the piece is taken from this line. Of the photos released during 2015, three especially captured my imagination. Each movement of the work is a reaction to these three respective photos. A final movement based upon another very famous photo of the Earth taken in the late 1960s rounds out the composition.

The first movement, ANGRY SKY, is inspired by a photo taken of a so-called “Red” Moon in September 2015. The Moon does not really change color, of course. During a lunar eclipse, it is actually the Earth’s atmosphere that is responsible for the breathtaking and beautiful change of hue. However, it is easy to see how earlier generations of humans might consider such a change a serious or even evil omen. The music of this movement seeks to capture a sense of foreboding and apprehension at the apparent “angry” sky.

The second movement, BLUE SUNSET, is based upon a photo taken of a Martian sunset by the NASA Curiosity Mars rover in April 2015. The eerie color of the sky is the result of very fine dust that allows blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently. The music is unsettled and constantly shifting in a way that is reminiscent of the disorienting sight of our sun as seen from the vantage point of an alien world.

The third movement, LONELY HEART, is a whimsical reflection based on one of the first close photos taken of the enigmatic dwarf planet, Pluto. Perhaps the most captivating feature of the photo taken by the New Horizons probe in July 2015 was the apparent image of a heart. Oddly, a forlorn jazz ballad came to mind as I contemplated this quirky on-again off-again planet floating in an off-kilter orbit in the outer recesses of our solar system. The be-bop inspired music in the middle of the movement is my take on the great excitement back on Earth at receiving the stunning images. However, as is the case with all lonely hearts, the attention is fleeting. Already, there is talk in the scientific community of a possible tenth “planet” beyond Pluto. Surely, such a discovery will leave our poor dwarf planet over-looked once again…

The final movement, PERSPECTIVE, takes its inspiration from the famous “Earthrise” photo taken in 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared this picture to be "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." Therefore, the music is imbued with a definite sense of urgency as I cannot help but consider the current threat that climate change poses to our world. The movement is structured in an arch form mimicking the curve of our beautiful blue Earth as it rises over the moon. At its center, the music features a plaintive song in the double bass; a not so subtle song from deep within the planet asking us to carefully consider our actions.