Skyspace Inspires New Work by Composer Matthew Lyons

Guitarist Justice Phillips performing Matthew Lyons' "Skyspace" for "Songs in the Skyspace" on November 24th

Earlier this year, Landmarks launched Songs in the Skyspace, a new music series hosted inside James Turrell’s Skyspace The Color Inside. The series features a variety of performers from campus and community, including Austin Classical Guitar. For their first performance, ACG commissioned Austin-based composer Matthew Lyons to write a piece in response to The Color Inside. The work was premiered on 24 November and an encore performance will be held on 15 December.

We recently sat down with Matthew Lyons to learn more about his process and his composition for the Skyspace.

LM: What does your song writing process look like?

ML: When I am composing music, it is not always a coherent process. It may start off as an extramusical idea with a narrative implication, or sometimes the process starts as just purely musical. I often improvise on the guitar and piano to figure out what might sound cool or work together compositionally. After experimenting, sometimes a potential "story" reveals itself, at which point the musical themes become more developed. 

LM: What elements of The Color Inside influenced this composition?

ML: I went to the actual space to get a sense of the environment. As you know, The Color Inside is a slow-moving process where you are watching the sunset through the ceiling of the art work. As it sets, the colors change and it turns into a linear movement, creating a sense of harmony and symbolism that greatly influenced the composition. Minimalist music was a huge influence, as its gradual and large-scale shifts in texture and harmony seemed like a perfect fit for the installation. This was a challenge for me as I’m used to writing music that is more constantly changing and explicitly thematic. The final work is a 20-minute long piece that features 5 different movements, following the narrative of a sunset and the constant play of light and shadows that results. 

LM: What do you want listeners to take away from your composition?

ML: I want the piece to reflect one cohesive experience, with the music complementing The Color Inside. The goal is to have the music hover around the threshold of awareness, with the music sometimes commanding more attention and other times receding into the background. At the end of the day, I want the audience to have a more enhanced experience of what is already an experiential art work.

LM: How does it feel to see and hear your work being played live in front of an audience?

It is a weird experience for me. You spend a lot of time working on the piece and when the performance finally comes, you're in the awkward position of being both the creator of the work, but also a member of the audience. Ultimately it's very rewarding, and I'm lucky to have gotten to work with the incredible Austin Guitar Trio!

Be sure to catch an encore performance of Matthew's work on 15 December!