Onomata planêtôn [The names of the wanderers] 2002
1 mvt | 6 min
Greek, Latin, and English
SSAATTBB
a cappella

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The Esoterics

About this Piece

At the beginning of this work, the English names of the planets are sung – from the outermost (now dwarf) planet Pluto, inward. Each planet is assigned one of nine pitches of a Lydian scale (from F2 to G3), and each pitch is determined by the comparative size of each sphere: the larger the planet, the lower the pitch assigned. This Lydian planetary list is sung by the Bass 2 choral section.

A “planetary” ostinato is then constructed by stacking choral voices in succession above this English list. The Bass 1 section sings the same planetary list as the Bass 2: this time in Greek, at a slight delay, and one perfect fifth higher. The Tenor 2 section then sings the planetary list in Latin: at a longer delay, and a perfect fifth higher still. So, the resultant interval between the lowest and highest strands in this ostinato becomes the symbolically significant ninth (referring to the number of planets in our Solar System).

After this ostinato has been set into motion for a while, the trilingual and triadic ostinato of each individual planet is then repeated and prolonged, and with this repetition, the diatonic center of each planet is established in the middle (Greek) vocal strand. It is above the “spinning” of these stacked fifths that the names of its each planet’s satellites are intoned.

Above the “spinning” ostinato of each planet’s repeated stacked fifths, the names of its moons, from the outermost satellite inward, are intoned, by the upper five choral parts (Soprano 1 and 2, Alto 1 and 2, and Tenor 1). These five voices enter, highest to lowest, at a canon of the second. The resultant diatonic clusters encompass the interval of the fifth, and recede as time elapses.

As with the pitches of each planet, the pitch assigned to each moon is determined by its size. So, the name of a large moon is sung at a small interval above its planet’s pitch center, and the name of a small moon is sung high above it. (The giant moons of Jupiter are scored in a very low register, and the comparatively miniscule moons of Mars are intoned in a very high range.)

The duration of each moon’s incantation and subsequent rest is related directly to the logarithm of its period (the time it takes to revolve around its home planet), and each moon’s internal rhythm is determined solely by the rhythms of its spoken pronunciation.

Text Credit

names of the planets and moons in the Solar System