Homunculus (2017) 7'
For solo percussion.
Commissioned by Neil Rao and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Premiered at the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1/25/17. Self-published (Morningside Press, ASCAP).
Homunculus was written as a response to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Haddon’s novel is especially remarkable because of its first-person narrator, named Christopher, who appears to have autism spectrum disorder. One of the joys of reading the novel is experiencing Christopher’s quirky fixations. Chief among these is an abiding fondness for prime numbers; in fact, all the chapters in the book are numbered with primes. My piece takes up this obsession: each layer of the music counts through prime numbers relentlessly, weaving them into an idiosyncratic story arc. I am especially interested in the broad message Haddon’s novel sends: by viewing the world through Christopher’s eyes, we remember that we, too, see the world through our own eccentric prisms. We, just like Christopher, are beholden to the unreliable narration of our own brains. Homunculus explores the idea of the brain’s machinery—“homunculus” is Latin for “little man,” and the term is used in neuroscience to refer to neurons in the somatosensory cortex that correspond to different body parts. I like to think that the percussionist in this piece is a “homunculus” of sorts: throughout the piece the player uses all her limbs to reach out and control the instruments around her, like she herself is a cluster of neurons reaching out to control various body parts. At the same time, she is asked to play the harmonica. For me, this element of breath represents the human element at the core of Curious Incident: namely, that we all share in one human experience, no matter the quirks and obsessions of our individual minds.