TIME VARIATIONS is a radical application of a technique Wilson has dubbed “style modulation,” where the style of a composition is not fixed, but subject to transformation as might be expected of any other aspect of music. The form of the work might best be described as a journey through the dimension of musical style using a single unifying thematic idea. To some extent this is not unlike a variation form, but one where the style of the piece continually evolves.
Wilson first became intrigued with the idea of integrating older musical styles into the context of contemporary music in the 1970’s, during the high-water mark of the original instruments movement. In program notes on the subject Wilson writes: “The freshness of early music performed on period instruments impressed me greatly. In many ways this music seemed more like new, rather than old music, as if it were a subset of contemporary music. I began to consider the possibilities of incorporating certain aspects of early music into my own compositions, but I was not interested in a hybrid, neoclassical approach, nor was I interested in collage techniques. Superimposing styles seemed destructive to both. Instead, I began to explore ways of transforming one musical style into another.”
Although TIME VARIATIONS begins and ends in a modernist style (coming full circle in the process), much of the piece employs techniques first used in the music of earlier times. On the surface this might seem like an abandonment of the ideals of contemporary music. This is in no way Wilson’s intention. Indeed, writing work like TIME VARIATIONS would be inconceivable in any era other than our own, as the all-embracing awareness of music from all style periods and cultures is a unique and defining characteristic of our time.
— Alex Radcliffe