Elements 7: Azote
Azote (Άζωτο) is the original Greek name given to the 7th element in the Mendeleev system by the famous French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in the 19th century, to denote opposite properties compared to Oxygen. We breathe Oxygen, and life depends on it, but we cannot breathe Nitrogen, as it will suffocate living beings. Hence the name a-zote, literally meaning not-living. Although the name has become practically obsolete in English (similarly Nitrogène has become unusual in French), Lavoisier’s choice is still used in French, and derivatives of its meaning non-life are found in German and Dutch, which both speak of a suffocating substance, Stickstoff or Stikstof. Variations on the name Azote can be found in many languages, such as Slavic languages, all over the world. Nitrogen’s varied pattern of spectral lines is given below.
Nitrogen is abundant in the Cosmos and also in the Earth’s atmosphere. In its gaseous form N2, also known as Diazote, it makes up for 78% of the air we breathe. On Pluto plains of solid Nitrogen have been photographed. As an odd numbered Element, it is surprisingly stable and has a large number of isotopes. Although it was named after the opposite of life, Nitrogen and its cycle from air to plants to soil play a vital role, and its fixation into Ammonia NH4 and its acid amino ion NH3+ is essential for creating the building blocks of all life: the amino acids, building blocks of DNA, which all have in the backbone Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen. The title of the music was deliberately chosen to denote a paradox: the abundantly present atmospheric Nitrogen is truly Azote, the suffocating gas, but the compounds of the same element in the soil are life-giving.
Nitrogen is at the core of DNA, but it is also at the core of explosives, of Nitroglycerin C3H5N3O9 of Nobel’s Dynamite, and thus of modern warfare and Peace Prizes. Indeed there is no life without death, and no death without life.
One of the main aims when creating Azote was to create a music in which sounds move musically, and where the pitches are not the necessarily most important sound aspects, but sound, register and dynamics are, and it was composed so that each sound has its own sense of space with it. Also sometimes these spaces move independently within the music, allowing for sounds to enter and sound in these spaces. Thus beat becomes breath, or the lack of it.
Although at first hearing it appears that rhythm is the main musical area explored, deeper listening reveals that the music is happening within the virtual spaces created by what we can call breathing rhythmic bubbles of sound.
The importance of the sense of architectural space gives Azote aspects of soundscape, but the fact that these spaces are formally treated and move about in an overall very rhythmical way, points again to a possible symphony. But these are mere words, insufficiently able and possibly obsolete to describe let alone categorize this music.
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