This piece was inspired by the chaotic traffic of the Indian city of Varanasi. The two-lane road that is ostensibly the "fast" option around the city, bypassing as it does the many narrow lanes of the old part of town, is actually teeming with cars, motorized rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, street vendors, horsecarts, bicycles, intrepid pedestrians, and an occasional camel or elephant; rising above this sea of metal, exhaust, and noise, like so many massive, furry islands, are Varanasi's seemingly oblivious, immobile cows. To enter into this chaos is to accept that every forward movement is a struggle, and that frustration is best avoided by measuring success in meters rather than miles.
What I found most exciting about the roads of Varanasi, however, was that this chaos was actually structured by countless context-dependent rules: individual agents, whether camel or bicycle, enjoy a great deal of freedom even as they negotiate many constantly shifting rules. In Traffic for thirteen players, I wanted to recreate this situation for the instrumentalists. Throughout, rules guide the interaction of four tempo layers, the shifting instrumentation, and at times the choice of pitches. Within these rules, though, the individual instruments' melodies are for the most part free. It is this tension between structural control and freedom within those structures that animates and frustrates Traffic.
Traffic is dedicated to Jeffrey Milarsky and the intrepid players of the Manhattan Sinfonietta.
Merkin Concert Hall, New York
April 23, 2007
Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor