„Picture a wave. In the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through. And it’s there. And you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave.
And then it crashes in the shore and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be, for a little while. You know it’s one conception of death for Buddhists: the wave returns to the ocean, where it came from and where it’s supposed to be”.
Chidi (‘The Good Place’)
This piece borrows ideas from two philosophies, Parmenides’s philosophy and Buddha’s concept of death:
// Parmenides’s philosophy //
” τί δ᾽ ἄν μιν καὶ χρέος ὦρσεν ὕστερον ἢ πρόσθεν, τοῦ μηδενὸς ἀρξάμενον, φῦν; οὕτως ἢ πάμπαν πελέναι χρεών ἐστιν ἢ οὐχί. / „Yet why would it be created later rather than sooner, if it came from nothing; so, it must either be created altogether or not [created at all].”
* Parmenides (c. 515 BC)
”Nothing comes from nothing” (Latin: ex nihilo nihil fit) is a philosophical expression of a thesis first argued by Parmenides. It is associated with ancient Greek cosmology – there is no break in-between a world that did not exist and one that did, since it could not be created ex nihilo in the first place.
// Buddha’s concept of death //
In book „The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” by Thích Nhất Hạnhh, Buddha says:
„When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, it also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, Some day, I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing. These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. We have to help it remove the notions of self, person, living being, and life span if we want the wave to be free and happy.”
I have always been fascinated by the concept of waves in music, especially in the context of minimal music (also known as ‘minimalism’). Repetitive patterns or pulses, reiterations of musical phrases or smaller units can be shaped through time (of the performance) into unique musical waves. Dynamic manipulation can also give the impression of appearing and disappearing into nothingness.
Ex Nihilo is structured at all levels by the concept of waves: compositional material (from the smallest units up to entire sub-movements and the piece as a whole); dynamics (incessant rising and falling of volume and tension); orchestration (constant and often overlapping successive parts – voices); and temporal elements (different pulses, different metres, and different tempos of each sub-movements overlapping each other).
The main musical unit is built on the rising motif d # – e – f # which represents small waves climbing above the surface of the sea. As a ‘theme’, this three-note pattern repeatedly returns throughout the entire piece.