Escher's Pharmacy (2011)
Escher’s Pharmacy is the third part in The Navidson Record, a seven-part cycle based on concepts found in Mark Z Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves, in which a man leads an expedition into a fantastical room in his house capable of growing to impossibly large proportions and shrinking with potentially fatal consequences.
The term 'pharmakon' was most famously used by Plato in Phaedrus; the Ancient Greek word that problematically translates as both ‘remedy’ and ‘poison’. Plato describes an exchange in which the scribe god Theuth offers King Thamus the gift of writing as a cure for forgetfulness. With a wisdom that only fictionalised kings possess, Thamus explains his reasons for refusing the gift:
“The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learnt it because they will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely in what is written…, so it’s not a remedy for memory, but for reminding that have discovered [oukoun mnēmēs, akka hupomnēsos pharmakon hēures].”
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination
The French-Algerian thinker Jacques Derrida reappropriated ‘pharmakon’ in his essay Plato’s Pharmacy in relation to writing and language in the expression of ideas.
The work of M.C. Escher is famous for taking the viewer in strange loops, either in the ubiquitous image of the impossible staircase in Ascending and Descending, or the cyclical structure of his Metamorphosis III, a frieze that travels through numerous designs and images before unexpectedly returning to the beginning.
Combining these two concepts produces a peculiar notion of a looping structure that simultaneously contextualises and destroys.
Duration: 12 Minutes 30 Seconds
Instrumentation: AFl, BOb, Cl, Pno, Vln, Vla, Vc
World Première: 20th November 2011, St Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield; Ensemble Recherche
German Première: 16th November 2012, Morat Institut, Freiburg; Ensemble Recherche
Commissioned by Ensemble Recherche for the 2011 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
This piece was featured on the CD "Shadow Walker", and released on the Col Legno label. You can hear the piece in full at the Col Legno website, here.