Robert Hasegawa, Ajax is all about attack (2003)
"He was three moves ahead, and the moves were all about shaping space. From
above -from up in the press box- it was a lesson in architecture."
-excerpt from the short story "Ajax is all about attack," by Jim Shepard
The name "Ajax" in the title of my duet for soprano sax and percussion doesn't refer to
the Greek warrior of the Iliad, but rather to the Amsterdam soccer team, famous for their
creation of a distinctively cerebral strategy called "total football." In "total football," the
traditional assigned positions were made flexible, so that a player could smoothly switch
from defender to attacker to midfielder. To make this fluidity work, every member of the
team needed to have a keen spatial sense of the rapidly changing patterns on the field. As
one player commented, "It was about making space, coming into space, and organizing
space-like architecture on the football pitch."
My introduction to this piece of sporting history was Jim Shepard's wonderful short
story, "Ajax Is All About Attack." It describes the experiences of a soccer player from an
unnamed Soviet-bloc country, as his transfer to the Ajax team drops him into the heady
politics and street protests of Amsterdam in the late 1960s. Shepard's descriptions of
"total football" gave me an idea for the duet I was working on-I would require from each
of the performers a cool, masterful command of musical space. Each would constantly
shape and reshape this space through their playing, while at the same time reacting
instantly to their partner's performance.
Ajax is all about attack uses the upper register of the soprano saxophone, in a musical
language including many microtonal intervals. The interplay between the saxophonist
and percussionist demands that the performers follow each other closely, ever sensitive
to nuances of rhythm and phrasing, as they jointly carve patterns in a musical "football
pitch." My thanks go to Jim Shepard for generously permitting me to steal his title.
Robert Hasegawa is a Lecturer on Music at Harvard University. In addition to
composing he also writes on music and music theory. His current research examines how
ancient ideas from just intonation can be applied to the music of modern composers like
Alvin Lucier, Gyorgy Ligeti, James Tenney, and Gerard Grisey.