Sonata for Bassoon and Piano
‘Deep Time’
duration: 20’
GRT • 214

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
I. The Abyss of Time
Deep Time
Ghosts of the Anthropocene

While viewing a strata unconformity at Siccar Point in 1788, when geology was first emerging as a science, John Playfair wrote:
“The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”

In 1981, John McPhee coined the phrase ‘deep time’:
“Numbers do not seem to work well with regard to deep time. Any number above a couple of thousand years—fifty thousand, fifty million—will with nearly equal effect awe the imagination to the point of paralysis.”

In 2019, Robert McFarland commented on both in his book, Underland:
“McPhee and Playfair’s phrases both evoke a temporal vertigo. For deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: millennia, epochs and aeons, instead of minutes, months and years. Deep time is kept by rock, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates. Seen in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. New responsibilities declare themselves. Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains rise and fall. We live on a restless Earth.” Walking through the limestone Akiyoshido Caves (the largest in Japan) provided a timely perspective at the time of writing.

A few years earlier in 2016, David Farrier theorized:
“Deep time is not an abstract, distant prospect, but a spectral presence in the everyday. The irony of the Anthropocene is that we are conjuring ourselves as ghosts that will haunt the very deep future.”

This sonata in 3 movements is subtitled ‘
Deep Time’ and responds to these ideas in music. The 17th in a series of sonatas written in the new millennium, it was written intensely over 3 days in September 2019, while in residence at the Akiyoshidai International Art Village in Japan. The work is written for Australian bassoonist Lyndon Watts and premiered by Lyndon with Leigh Harrold at the Ian Potter Southbank Centre (MCM) on 11 February 2020.