In Extremis
Julian Wagstaff


This work is in three movements, as follows:

1. SI-SVI 2. “Attempt No Landings Here”
3. Explosiv

Each of the three movements is informed and inspired by the work of a different group of scientists working at the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions (CSEC) at Edinburgh University. The Centre re-creates the extreme temperatures and pressures found at the centre of the earth and on distant planets, and investigates how substances react under these conditions.

The first movement draws on Dr. Olga Degetryeva’s ground-breaking work on the high- pressure solid phases of the element sulphur, with the “SI-SVI” of the title referring to a journey from sulphur phase one through to phase six. In writing this section I wished to emphasise the “movement within stasis” aspect of those crystalline structures. Each phase has its own definite geometry, but that geometry is itself constantly pulsating and vibrating. The term “phase” also put me in mind of the work of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich (for example Piano Phase from 1967).

The second movement was inspired by Dr. John Loveday’s work on methane hydrates on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. (The title of the movement is a reference to Arthur C Clarke’s novel 2010, the sequel to 2001-A Space Odyssey, in which life emerges on Jupiter’s moon Europa). Titan is of particular interest to researchers due to its relative size (it is larger than the planet Mercury), and because it is the only moon that we know of to have a fully developed atmosphere. On icy Titan, methane plays the role that water does in Earth’s weather systems: it can form clouds, and can fall as rain – or even hail or snow. In 2004 the Cassini-Huygens mission discovered liquid hydrocarbon lakes in the satellite’s polar regions.

The third and final movement is a musical treatment of the high explosive CL-20, and is indebted to Professor Colin Pulham’s work on the high-pressure “zeta” form of the substance. The explosive has the chemical formula C6H6N12O12, and this formula is reflected in the pitch and time signature choices within the movement. The application and nature of the explosive is represented in the musical gestures and articulation that give the movement its character and shape.


Instrumentation Genre Ensemble (no conductor)
Tag trio
Duration 23 minutes
Instrumentation Violin [1 player]; Viola [1 player]; Cello [1 player]

Performances of this work

Date Venue Performer Link
19/04/2011 (*premiére) e-Science Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK Link to online catalogue

New Music Scotland will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information to keep you updated with relevant new music (as defined on our website) news, events and invitations to submit information both by us and shared with us by the new music community.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.