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Composed: 2015
Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: string and vocal ensemble, with film

Sometimes it is the smallest things that return. Again and again, and again. Sometimes repetition enhances meaning. Reinforces meaning. Depletes it, warps it. Envelopes it. The simplest words, when repeated aloud, develop a strangeness that is delightful and chilling at the same time. Repetition folds and unfolds a signifier until the relationship between the signifier and the signified breaks down, articulated best in fragments and distilled to something non-verbal. Elusive semiotic theory aside, this, I think, is where some of our music comes from. And maybe this is why some music keeps coming back.

Ritornello does not exist in a single, finished form. It’s designed intentionally as a general project that could expand and contract like an accordion. It is, to be quite honest, the most important thing I am working on right now, and it is the longest thing I have been working on in my life so far. It will be something that I return to, again and again.

There are many different colors and crevices in the music itself, but the main material that returns (the “ritornello”) is grounded in just two chords. Recently someone said to me, “It’s all V-I, or is it I-IV?” I’m not sure it matters. And I love the ambiguity. It mirrors that other wild binary that I love — the sometimes elusive distinction between joy and sadness.

— Caroline Shaw