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Galileo (Tom Johnson)

In 2009, I had a phone call from Tom Johnson, a composer that I know and admire since I’m a teenager. I saw him several times in the preceeding years performing his piece "Galileo" for 5 sounding pendulums. During the phone call, he proposed me to study the piece and perform it cause he was a little tired. I was honored and happy , I took the train to Paris, was initiated by T.J., bought his pendulums frame and sticks (very friendly price), and brought them home to Liège. A friend was kind enough to let me install Galileo in his atelier (thank you, Eric Dopagne and Tony Di Napoli) and I practiced there quiet regularly for about 3 months. The first time I performed it was in Amsterdam during an event organised for the 70th birthday of Tom Johnson by "Orgelpark". Since march 2010, I played it more or less 3 times a year in various places in Europe.

The space where the performance takes place needs to be at least 4,50m high. Surface needed on the floor is 3m60/2m (cfr shema) The frame to wich the 5 pendulums are hanged consists of a metal bar This metal bar raises in diagonal from the floor up to a fix point that should exist at 4m40. I should be able to fix the up- end of this metal bar to this fix point,

Installation time and rehearsal time in the space : 2 days Performance duration :+-40mn including a short speech before to explain the basic principles Seting off : +-1 hour

No amplification. Outdoor performance possible and encouraged by the composer.

« Nature is a book one can read, but the language is mathematics. »

Galileo Galilei

« The day Galileo Galilei discovered the law of the pendulum, I’m sure he thought he was reading the book of nature, and when I play my pendulums I sometimes have a similar feeling. I can not control their movement and can only try to follow their rhythm, their natural rhythm. The law of the pendulum is only one among thousands of laws that control the world we live in, not counting those yet undiscovered, but it is a natural law that can be seen and heard rather easily, and often people who attend performances of Galileo also feel that they are not only hearing music, but also reading a bit from the book of nature. » Tom Johnson

Galileo is a composition/instrument that swings on five pendulums. The slowest of these hangs from a line about 260 cm long, suspended from a height of about four meters. The other four pendulums must be carefully measured, following the formula discovered by Galileo Galilei some 500 years ago, so as to make their cycles in 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5 and the time necessary for the longest. A sequence of short compositions allow us to hear all the different combinations of tempos. The piece has evolved slowly from three pendulums to five, from 10 minutes to over 40, in a variety of situations.

More photos : To see more photos, please click on the numbers : 1 ; 2 ; 3 ; 4 ; 5

Video-tutorial with extracts and explanations by T.J. and myself : Illustrated Music nr 20.

And here another video extract of a performance

It’s possible to order the score and instructions to build the instrument here.

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