Friday, December 24, 2021

The Globalization of She Who Is Alive

fames orchestra
I've been recording the orchestral parts to She Who Is Alive with the North Macedonian fames orchestra the last few months.  Many covid delays but so delightful to hear the music come to life. 

They are fabulous and fearless musicians, although not without complaints about the unending velocity of some of the parts or the Zeitmaße-like length of some of the held notes in the wind. And it seems that every time a 7/8 measure appears in the score, at least one member of the orchestra is unable to restrain themselves from playing Blue Rondo A La Turk during a pause. For me, it is unbridled joy, and getting up at three in the morning to meet with them on the other side of the world is part of the excitement, like waking up to catch a plane or head off on a fishing trip with dad.  Which I believe I did once. 

I'm still polishing here and there, but the writing is done, and the conductor's score clocks in at 814 A3 pages, about 3 1/2 hours of music, and 1737 pages of A4 parts.  I think I will add some electronic bits, as well as processing and editing and melodic fiddling but this is the bulk of it.  I've only just begun to think about casting, and whether the voices on Pro Tools will be those of the actors on screen, or if I should split them like Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Not that one has to be consistent. Filming it all seems daunting now, but somehow each piece will fall into place as it always does, and a castle on an icy lake will appear, as will the planes and tropical islands and the chorus of Young Virgins dressed alike in mustard-colored blouses. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Endless Études

To the left is the Pulcinella notebook. Note the rapidity of the creation: dear Monsieur Stravinsky writing in ink, although later some revisions in red ink and blue crayon. Given my fetishistic attraction to such objects, I think how sad it will be for my biographers that I have left so few scribblings behind. 

Before I was old enough to buy cigarettes at the 7-Eleven, I worked in pencil, sometimes on small sheets (9x12), often on much larger. Those large sheets of unusually-sized paper, spread over the piano and the floor nearby, always made me feel I was creating something special, a large canvas on which I could spill my soul. Those still remain, tucked inside a filing cabinet in our storage unit along with the other detritus of a life well-lived: corsets, costumes, flyers, religious paraphernalia, conspiracy theories. But in the last decades, working primarily on the computer, there is no history.  It is gone, bits erased and then erased again.

However, there are a few threads that these aforementioned biographers can follow, as my large works steal from my small. In fallow times, when I am not obsessed with the latest objects of textual affection, I will write my ideas in small piano works, études for the composer rather than the performer. And, when I do write the next opera, I liberally mine those little pieces for material. You know it's been proven again and again that all music fits with all dance or all film or all text, but the resultant effect is of course very different depending on the particular combination. 

Now that I say what I said, I realize that they often are études for the performer as well, and usually too difficult for me to play except in approximation. For example, the set I wrote in Florence in 2019 is scattered through She Who Is Alive, but in January at the Center for New Music, I am playing them, in approximation.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, on its 25th anniversary


I had planned quite the coming out party last year: a new performance of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil for its 25th anniversary, a second production of Certitude and Joy in New York City, and another of which I wasn't quite sure, but boringly now the long SARS-CoV-2 winter descended. However, even in a cold dark winter, there are days when the sun appears and the snow glistens with a crystalline light. This is one of those days.

Clicking the image above will take you to the bandcamp page for a brand new release of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, featuring Laura Bohn and Nikola Printz as the little girl Marceline-Marie (whose double first name ...) Rotimi Agbabiaka as the narrator, and Bradley Kynard as the R.F., the Celestial Bridegroom, et al.  We worked and recorded remotely, from here to Amsterdam, and through the marvels of this internet age, transported all the recordings to Jay Cloidt's capable hands†, who has sculpted them into the wonder which is now placed before you.  My favorite bit, of which I at first was skeptical, is his beautiful manipulation of the first sleep, although maybe you will find more to your liking the second ("Among the highlights are a gorgeous woodwind nocturne as Spontanette settles back into sleep" said Joshua Kosman), or the more frenetic glories of the Hair or the Academy of Science. Something for everyone. 

†Jay has mixed everything of mine since the Mass, Laura I've known since she herself was almost a little girl, and Nikola has been appearing recently on this blog in several guises. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Voyeur's Gratitude

I bought a long lens for my camera which the Empress refers to as "my penis", placing it in the category of muscle cars, assault weapons and other fashions in which we men in later life make up for a lost youth.  But it is a beautiful thing, and it allows me to dwell on the hummingbirds and wild parrots above our garden, and sometimes the moons of Jupiter in near conjunction.  But objects and people naturally far away suddenly brought near through the use of carefully shaped glass bring a sudden shiver, a frisson of voyeuristic fear. I tried to calm myself by searching for antidotes to my affliction, but instead came across the poems of Jeffrey Bean, including the one here now presented for your interest and anger and possible titillation.  

Saturday, February 13, 2021


Crash performance, New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1986. (camera: Steve Felty)

Crash was written in the summer of 1986 as the musical accompaniment for a dance of the same name created by choreographer Gay White. Based in part on the J. G. Ballard novel, the work tells the story of the destruction of a car and the maiming of its occupant. The work is com-prised of three broad sections. The first is a garden scene, where a young woman sleeps. The landscape is cold and damp. She has a dream of surrender, of a woman in mourning and of a funeral. In the second section, the woman accelerates onto a freeway on-ramp, where she is awakened, seduced by speed and exposed to impact. In the third section, a new sense of beauty evolves from the changes to her anatomy. 

"I searched for my scars, those tender lesions that now gave off an exquisite and warming pain."

Performance of the dance at New Langton Arts, San Francisco, California, 1986, included the display of two videotapes prerecorded by Mark A. Z. Dippe. One provides a documentation of the dance, combining several camera angles. The second deconstructs the dance, illuminating small details that might otherwise be missed by the audience.

The score for the music of the third section is shown above. This recording was realized on an NED Synclavier II synthesizer. Digital control over the work allows the tuning of the pitches to be set precisely. Attention to tuning was something that was common to much of my music at the time. In this case, the static pitches are based on the simple scale shown at the top of the score. The moving pitches flirt with the tones of this scale and generate controlled beating effects. 

Except for the instrumental (drum and string) samples, all of the component sounds in the last section are modifications of recorded natural sounds. One is an extremely high vocal sound. It appears in the piece replayed both in a very low and a medium register. Sampling can introduce spectral aliases, which are typically filtered out in digital-to-analog conversion. For the very low sounds, the sampling rate and filter cut off were chosen so that the first spectral alias was not removed. This alias is very interesting, as it is a mirror image in frequency of the original image spectrum. The addition of this alias lends a high, rich timbral edge to the sound. Also, as the original sound moves up and down, the alias mirrors its movement. Another sound source is a small Godzilla toy. I like to think that the semantic content of this source unconsciously contributes to the scariness of the finale.


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