Painfully slow and achingly beautiful, The Passing Measures - for bass clarinet, amplified orchestra, and women's voices - is an ambient and emotionally charged meditation on the passing of time.
"This heartfelt, mournful piece, a wordless, 45-minute quasi-concerto for women's chorus, bass clarinet, and amplified orchestra, is a welcome surprise from a composer whose always deft and subtle work has often seemed ironic and arch. The clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus, conducted by Paul Herbert, provide a dignified performance, giving gentle life to the work's lustrous waves of color. [This is one of the] best classical albums of 2001."
- Russell Platt, The New Yorker
"Sits and shimmers gently, like a jeweled pendant turning very slowly in the light."
- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle
"Lang has created a moody, moving 43-minute experience."
- Bradley Bambarger, Billboard
David Lang on The Passing Measures
"I think one of the reasons our commercial culture likes all music to be fast and snappy is because in fast music it is much harder to recognize the passing of time. You listen to the tunes, to the catchy phrases, but you are not allowed to feel just how time slips away. Fast music is stirring, optimistic - that is why we are bombarded all day by active, energetic music that tries to make us buy things or do things or think things. Slow music, on the other hand, is good for contemplation but is terrible for business, so you don't get much of it in your daily life. More and more I have become convinced that one of the noblest things you can do in a piece of "serious" music is to allow for an experience that can't happen in your everyday life. The Passing Measures is that kind of experience.
My piece is about the struggle to create beauty. A single very consonant chord falls slowly over the course of forty minutes. That is the piece. Every aspect of the piece is on display, however - magnified, examined, amplified, prolonged. The soloist's notes are impossibly long, requiring frequent drop-outs for breath and for rest. The players are all instructed to play as quietly as possible, and then are amplified at high volume, in order to make their restraint an issue of the piece. Four percussionists scrape pieces of junk metal from start to finish, as if to accompany the consonance of the chords with sounds of dirt and decay.
The Passing Measures is dedicated to the memory of Bette Snapp.