In early 1976, Feldman had accepted a commission from the opera in Rome for the opera “Neither”, based on a text by Samuel Beckett. His works “Orchestra”, “Elemental Procedures”, and “Routine Investigations”, written in the short period between April and July in 1976, represented for Morton Feldman a “trilogy” with which he prepared himself for the work on his opera.
In all three pieces, Feldman uses a characteristic complex of material, clearly differentiated from his previous type of textural treatment and inserted as a fixed element into the course of the music. Feldman said, “All three pieces contain what I call ‘Beckett material’ – a long, continuous melodic line that I planned to use in my later Beckett opera. Now the opera “Neither” is finished, and I didn’t even use the ‘Beckett material’ there.”
The basic model for the “Beckett material” consists of nine measures in which the pitches c, d-flat, d, and e-flat – chromatic neighbors – are repeated in an irregular sequence. This pitch material is accelerated and retarded and is accompanied by intermittent chordal attacks. The result is a consistent series of pitches that do not resemble a melodic line, with phrases and points of emphasis, so much as seemingly endless pitch activity.
The structure of the “Beckett material”, oriented toward melody and accompaniment, is clearly in opposition to the chordal material that is the foundation for the compositional technique Feldman used in all his works. Even if Feldman did not use the “Beckett material” in his opera, he often deployed it in the long pieces based on repeating patterns that he wrote between 1977 and 1983, in order to generate fast motion within the slow unfolding processes characteristic of his music.