In search of the miraculous takes its title from a book by P.D. Ouspensky (1878-1947); for me, the phrase conveniently describes composers in the act of composition. My process of writing music always begins as a rational enterprise of design and construction, but many of the music’s attractive characteristics develop from intuitions I can’t explain. In the end, no matter how extensively I apply technical knowledge and calculation, they merely provide a framework for unpredictable, evanescent, magical phenomena in sound.

Ouspensky’s book records teachings of the charismatic cult leader G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949). A geometric figure in one of the book’s illustrations caught my eye: the enneagram, a figure comprising nine equidistant points along a circle, connected by various straight lines to create a figure of bilateral (rather than radial) symmetry. I have based the form of the piece on the enneagram.

The work comprises nine mutually contrasting passages of music, arranged so that the end of music #1 overlaps with the beginning of music #2, the end of music #2 overlaps with the beginning of music #3, and so on, suggesting a trip along the circumference of the enneagram. The peak of each section incorporates some reminiscence of previous music or foreshadowing of later music, in a manner corresponding to the chords that connect the nine points of the enneagram. Thus, as one musical motive begins to fade, the next is already underway, and as each attains its peak, it simultaneously recalls an earlier idea and foreshadows a later one.

The specific character of each music derives partly from its number; for example, music #3 is based on a three-note motive (derived from the call of a wood thrush), outlining an equal division of the octave by three (that is, an augmented triad). Some of the characters refer to specific musical styles: #4 presents a lopsided disco groove, #6 recalls West African polyphonies, and #9 imitates a festive parade samba; others present more generic manifestations of “two-ness” or “seven-ness.”

I mention all of this only to explain the relationship between the work’s title and its form. It doesn’t really matter whether listeners are consciously aware of these connections; in fact, it’s probably better if you aren’t. My goal wasn’t to create a puzzle for listeners to solve; rather, I wanted to create music that would exhibit certain symmetries and connections, that would offer energy, beauty, shimmer, and wit, but that would ultimately ask more questions than it answers. In order to write a convincing samba which would include not only appropriate syncopations but a variety of durations and stresses, I cobbled together a text to set as the melody, even though the words aren’t heard in the orchestral version. The “verses” are a sampling of Gurdjieff’s aphorisms, translated into Portuguese, and the “refrain” (heard at the beginning and end of the work) is similarly derivative:

Estes são alguns fragmentos
De um ensinamento
Em busca do milagroso,
Do miraculoso
Quase esquecido.
Seu Jorge o descobriu no Oriente
E dito os segredos pra Ouspensky:
As danças, as canções, o Eneagraminha,
O Trabalho, o Quarto Caminho.

These are some fragments
Of an unknown teaching:

In search of the miraculous,
The marvelous,
Nearly forgotten.
Mr. George discovered it in the Orient
And told the secrets to Ouspensky:
The dances, the songs, the enneagram,
The Work, the Fourth Way.


The work ends, enigmatically, on the words “The Work.”

In search of the miraculous was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra with the generous support of The Helen F. Whitaker Fund.

Brian Robison