The Dante Quartet was commissioned by the Pianos Without Organs festival, which occurred in Raleigh, North Carolina on October 7-9, 2016. Several of the pieces on the festival were composed for two state-of-the-art computer controlled grand pianos (Yamaha and Bösendorfer) owned by John Walker. The triggering mechanism on the pianos exceeds that of a typical disklavier, allowing for extremely rapid and accurate rhythms and a wide range of dynamic levels.
The composition maps each frame of the eponymous film by Stan Brakhage, completed in 1987, to a corresponding sound event. There are a little under 5,000 hand-painted frames in the six-minute film, which took six years to complete. To create the music, the rhythms of the frames were transcribed and converted into musical notation (calculating a tempo of 89.91 to allow for 23.976 64th notes per second). 26 visual motifs were identified and assigned a unique corresponding harmonic structure. The speed of the events allowed for a technique of "variable harmonic focus"—wherein a variable proportion of a given number of notes taken from a larger harmonic subset is assigned to a smaller harmonic subset (i.e., one of the 26 motifs). Depending on the degree of clarity of the visual motif, the corresponding harmonic structure could be brought more or less into "focus." In addition to this general synchronicity, many individual frames in the film are highlighted through traditional methods of dynamic and registral contrast.