All U Got 2 Do was inspired by a sermonette by Reverend Milton Brunson which appears on a 1990 release called Black Gospel Explosion.
all you got to do is
and god’ll give you the power
won’t he do it?
somebody know what I’m talking about?
won’t he give you
power to live right
power to think right
power to speak right
power to do right
god’ll give you
• Reverend Milton Brunson
Along with the Brunson text, the piece uses a transformed recording of the introduction to the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. The live player tries to follow the Reverend’s advice by playing as few notes with as much attention as possible. The piece was originally written for Hammond organ, but it has been played on violin and on clarinet. Other instruments might work as well, I’m open to you trying it. The score is minimally notated: you will want to shape the expression of the piece in your own way. The best performances will create a fragile balance between immobility and hope.
All U Got 2 Do is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear David Steele’s clarinet version at 3 August, along with the video by Matt Petty, which is part of our multimedia show, Lighten Up.
It Happens Like This sets the recitation of a poem by James Tate against an adaptation of a traditional Persian chaharmezrab melody and dance rhythm. Perhaps the cyclical embroiderings of the chaharmezrab echo the successive embroiderings of the narrator’s tale of the goat.
It Happens Like This was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson and Works and Process, Inc. for a celebration of James Tate at the Guggenheim Museum. Many thanks to Greg Hesselink for help and advice with the cello notation, and Mary Rowell for ideas and advice for the two-instrument version.
It Happens Like This was written while in residence at the Civitella Ranieri and is dedicated with affection to Diego Mencaroni, who once loved a goat.
I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.
Here is the traditional chaharmezrab on which the piece is based:
It Happens Like This is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a live recording of the duo version by BRIM, please visit July 6th.
Hereis a score of the original cello plus actor version. And here is the two-instrument version of It Happens Like This. It has been done as a violin/viola duo, and as a mandolin/guitar duo. For a set of parts, please order by clicking the donation link below (and let me know if you need different transposition or clefs.)
Night Psalm was inspired by Psalm 77, particularly verse 20:
Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
The melody of the piece is based on a chant found in a late sixteenth century antiphoner from Augsberg Cathedral in Germany. It is not known why this book would have been made so late, given the liturgical politics involved.
Night Psalm is dedicated to Paul Kahn on the occasion of his becoming a deacon. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear Vicky Chow’s live recording (accompanied by a video I made off the back of a towboat on the Mississippi) by visiting March 10. And you can see an excerpt of me performing the piece on a Launchpad here.
Here is a score of the piece. If you are paid to perform it in public, I would deeply appreciate you paying for the score:
I wrote Did he promise you tomorrow? on 7 February 2011 as a memorial to Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011.) The title is something a woman named Carla asked me in a bar in Los Gatos, California precisely one year earlier, on 7 February 2010, while Chris Porter and I were watching the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. I had never watched a Super Bowl before, but the fact of two river cities being in contention made it sort of a required event that year. I don’t know what Steve’s attachment to the Super Bowl may or may not have been, but I do know that he loved Louis Andriessen’s music passionately, so I have re-purposed a lick from De Volharding as the basis of the piece.
Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. You can hear Matt Petty and me doing a wacky all-harpsichord version by going to February 7th. And you can purchase a wind and brass heavy version here.
The piece can be performed by virtually any group of at least six instruments and/or singers. You can arrange your own score from the six conceptual lines. The pdf called vocal score is the simplest arrangement. You can look at the Newspeak arrangement to see one approach to arranging the piece for larger forces.
You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase, we will send you a Finale file so you can make your very own arrangement of Did he promise you tomorrow?
The Island of the Sirens (2011) is a piece about defective transcription and the failures of translation.
I started with a recording of a warning siren I heard in Plaquemine, Louisiana, while I was traveling down the Mississippi River in the autumn of 2009. I sliced the warning siren into eight layers of partials and then asked the computer to transcribe those eight recordings into musical notation. Because the computer’s transcription algorithm was confused by the sounds, the resulting scores were quite strange. I recorded eight women singing these transcriptions, and mixed them in quasi-unison against the eight layers of electronically transformed siren. I then made three separate submixes of the electronics, which are fed into three sets of headphones for the backup performers, who can be instrumentalists or singers. The backup chorus is asked to perform in real time what they are hearing in their headphones, a task at which they will invariably fail to fulfill entirely successfully, creating yet more quasi-unison layers that deviate from the actual sound of the transformed siren.
The lead vocal, a setting of Rilke’s poem about the impossibility of describing an experience to those who haven’t shared it, is the only notated music in the piece. It also incorporates elements I heard in the siren recording, filtered through my own biases and limitations.
When his hosts would ask him late in the evening
to tell of his voyages and the perils they brought,
the words came easily enough,
but he never knew
just how to convey the fear and with what startling
language to let them perceive, as he had,
that distant island turn to gold
across the blue and sudden stillness of the sea.
The sight of it announces a menace
different from the storm and fury
which had always signaled danger.
Silently it casts its spell upon the sailors.
They know that on that golden island
there is sometimes a singing–
and they lean on their oars, like blind men,
as though imprisoned
by the stillness. That quiet contains
all that is. It enters the ear
as if it were the other side
of the singing that no one resists.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from New Poems
Joanna Macy, Anita Barrow, translators
The Island of the Sirens was written for the New York ensemble loadbang, and is dedicated to the band with vast affection. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble‘s live performance on December 10th in A Book of Days. loadbang’s premiere studio recording of the piece is available here.
In order to perform The Island of the Sirens, you need a lead singer who sings this score, along with three instrumentalists or singers, who listen to individual headphone tracks and imitate what they’re hearing as well as they can. The piece is set up already in Ableton Live, and after you click the donation button below, I’ll send you all the materials you need to perform the piece using Ableton or the DAW of your choice.
On the Battlefield was inspired by the memory of a visit I made to the Vicksburg National Military Park during my journey down the Mississippi River in 2009.
The November afternoon I was there, I ended up in a miserable long-distance phone argument with my then-lover in Athens. The site of one of the iconic struggles of the war between the states felt entirely personal and intimate to me that afternoon.
Six years later, I spent an afternoon at that same battlefield with my friend and collaborator Matt Petty as he filmed the footage he used to make the video for On the Battlefield.
On the Battlefield is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to Matt’s trombone version by visiting 23 November.
The piece can be performed by any brass or wind player. You can play back my spoken part or mute it to perform with a live actor, male or female. Whatever you play into Ableton Live will be transformed simultaneously into clusters and also a drone. I have not composed your music: you will want to respond to the text, the visuals, and the live processing. It’s possible you will want to be thinking of “taps” as you play, but you definitely won’t want to be corny about it.
In order for the Ableton session to work properly, you probably need the full version of Live. You will also need to download and install the free plugins you can find here.
You will want to switch the monitor buttons to IN on the first two tracks, called CLUSTERS and DRONE, and make sure your playing levels do not cover the spoken voice. The video is embedded in the Live session; in order for the video to display, you need to be in Arrangement view, not Session view.
To purchase the Ableton session needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:
The first EP of Songs from the River Project is now available for download on Bandcamp! The original limited edition EP sold out a while ago, so this is the first time it’s been available for general release!
Snag your copy below and stay tuned for more, including previously unreleased material!
Point at Genesis all you like, but I don’t believe God created Wyoming for humans to live in. It is marvelous handiwork nonetheless! Aesthetically, from the comfort of a car with a full tank of gas, especially if it has heated seats and a good sound system, there’s no better road trip than across Highway 16 on the Cloud Peak Highway and through the Wind River Range.
The actual Oregon Trail is somewhat south of that route, through a broad river valley created by the North Platte and the Sweetwater, crossing the Continental Divide at South Pass. It’s an ancient Native American route between east and west, created by water, as all the best routes are, and it’s certainly more practical than the route Lewis and Clark took in the early 19th century!
Willow Creek is the the little stream that feeds the Gold Rush town of South Pass City. If this creek started six miles further west, that water would end up in the Colorado River heading southwest to grow lettuce in the Imperial Valley and water lawns in Los Angeles. If it were further north, it would eventually join the Columbia River and flow past Portland to the Pacific.
Instead, it joins the Sweetwater River, and then the North Platte at Alcova, WY, the Platte itself at Brady, NE, the Missouri at Nebraska City, the Mississippi at St. Louis, and then flows all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Sitting by the side of the creek this weekend, I imagined I could feel the gravitational pull towards the east and the south. This water is urging me to New Orleans, and I have to fight to imagine heading up and over the Continental Divide out to the West.
When I paddled through the Chain of Rocks six years ago, a real but vanishingly small percentage of the water I was flowing with came from Willow Creek in South Pass City.
That is a miraculous thing.
The scale of Wyoming is not human scale. England, that green and pleasant land, is human scale. Even Vermont is human scale, by comparison with Wyoming. Vermont is brutal in winter, certainly you can die of exposure or whatever, but there’s a sense that you as an individual human being can somehow find shelter, build a little nest in a ravine somewhere to protect yourself from the wind and snow and wild beasts. I do not feel that way in Wyoming. It is quite clear that I could die out here very easily. It is very beautiful, but it is not a green and pleasant land.
Perhaps when the buffalo were here, it felt different? Then there was a plentiful source of food, clothing, and even shelter just from that one animal, and small bands of humans could survive and even thrive by living on the wealth that the buffalo created for them.
But now the buffalo are gone. And the overriding feeling I am left with as an individual traveling alone in this landscape is exposure and vulnerability. Those feelings lead to awe, I have to say, when I think of a half million immigrants struggling across this landscape in wagons and handcarts. There’s something both terrible and thrilling about the ferocious fragility of human ambition: what were the desperate dreams of the people who embarked on this journey, what was so unbearable about the places and the situations they were escaping from?
Walking Music was originally written for an opera based on a Stephen King story called The Man in the Black Suit. This music accompanies a boy’s walk to the stream where he unexpectedly meets the devil. It’s a decorated arrangement of an old hymn of the sort the boy might have been humming as he walked. The hymn, called The King of Love, is a reworking of Psalm 23, set to an old Gaelic tune.
Several years after making the piece, I made an arrangement that can be played as part of the River Project. Thankfully, I did not meet the devil on my journey down the river(!) But I feel that the music captures something of the innocence I sometimes felt on the journey.
Walking Music is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by BRIM and the Guidonian Hand visiting May 11th.
The original version of this piece is for two singers, two guitars, chorus, string quartet, and optional stream ambience. The BRIM and Guidonian Hand version is for singer, violin, guitar, trombone quartet, and piano. You can download a score of that version here. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, just let me know your needs.
And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!
then I’m heading to Natchitoches, LA to work with Kisatchie Sound (Matthew Petty and David Steele), presenting some of my music, and doing some exploration relating to a new piece that will celebrate the 300th anniversary of this very interesting place. I’m really looking forward to this!
Pump Music is inspired by a series of hand pumps I encountered in campsites while traveling down the Mississippi River in 2009. I recorded this pump at a campsite called Wanagan’s Landing, which was the place we stayed after the very first day of paddling, on 1 August 2009. It’s maybe ten miles down from the headwaters of the Mississippi River, in northern Minnesota.
I was struck not only by the raucous noise of the pump, but also by the unearthly melody of the afterglow as the water recedes back into the earth when you stop pumping. The melody is not a simple overtone series as you might expect, but some curious phenomenon emerging from the length and diameter of the pipe that I don’t have enough physics to understand.
Pump Music was commissioned for the Guidonian Hand and Mary Rowell by Meet the Composer/Commissioning Music USA, and is dedicated to them with vast affection.
Pump Music is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear the premiere performance (at Roulette on 1 June 2012), please visit August 1st.
Here is a score of the complete piece in pdf format.
After you click the donation button below, you’ll get all the necessary materials to perform the piece.
You can also read this blog post about 1 August 2009 of The River Project.
I’ve posted a new piece called Play Like a Girl, a set of eight keyboard variations on the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus standard, Kaval Sviri. Some work well on grand piano, others on toy piano or celeste or harpsichord or other “girly” instruments, as you like. The variations can be played simultaneously or successively in any combination for a total of eight factorial versions of the piece. I am posting twelve different versions of the piece in A Book of Days, on the 13th of each month. You can listen to those to get a sense of the possibilities.
Play like the girl you are (or sometimes wish you were!)
BRIM, loadbang, the Guidonian Hand, and James Johnston are heading into the studio to record the next set of River Project pieces for EP#3. EP#1 is now sold-out, but EP#2 is still available, so if you haven’t yet snagged a copy, here’s your chance!
Along with working on recording the next EP, we are currently booking shows for next season, and of course I’ve got more pieces on the way! I keep finding more areas I want to delve into, which are taking shape into pieces and projects I would never have predicted. More about the new projects soon!
But it occurs to me that new visitors might want a quick link to the beginning of this whole journey, which you can find right here.
The League-ISCM is playing Waiting for Billy Floyd on Monday 17 June up at Miller Theater, which should be very cool. They’re doing the images as well, so that’ll be a nice thing. Mississippi in upper Manhattan!
On Thursday 18 April, the Voices of Ascension under the direction of Dennis Keene will be premiering a new commission for chorus and organ called Building the Bird Mound. Click the photo for tickets and more information:
Building the Bird Mound was inspired by a visit I made to Poverty Point, a pre-historic mound complex in Northeast Louisiana, while traveling down the length of the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle in the fall of 2009. Poverty Point, which was built sometime between 3500 and 1500 B.C. is structured as a series of long concentric half-circles that radiate from a center mound which is in the shape of a winged bird. When I stood in the center of the mound that November afternoon, I had a glimpse of something very powerful, a sense of being sheltered — held — in the body of this giant effigy bird, and close to the ghosts of all the people who had scrabbled in the dirt to pile up and carry soil, basket by basket, to build this sacred place. I knew then that I wanted to write a piece of music about this place and the people who built it, and Building the Bird Mound is the result of that afternoon’s inspiration.
Even though we just finished up one series of concerts, there are more upcoming projects here in New York that continue the flow…
On 17 February, the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble with Vicky Chow on piano and Ana Milosavljevic on violin will be performing a show we’re calling Songs from the River and Elsewhere on the Avant Music Festival, which is going to be a wonderful series of concerts, highly recommended.
We’ve already begun rehearsing the repertoire for the 17 February concert, and it’s really fascinating to be embedding RiverProject songs in and among songs from A Book of Days. While the journey down the river definitely changed me and my work, there are some themes that thread their way through all the pieces, and hearing them performed by these excellent musicians is really great.
Also upcoming (on 2 March) is a performance of The Sirens, or Pleasure, my Cagean (Cageish?) collaboration with Yvan Greenberg, by the duo Two Sides Sounding. come check out the bicycle roulette wheel doing its thing, you never know which crackerjack prizes it’ll choose!
Along with these performances, I’m starting work on Pump Music, a big new piece for violin, trombone quartet, and location recordings of hand pumps found in campsites along the Mississippi River, a Meet the Composer commission that will premiere later in the spring on the Tribeca New Music Festival. Stay tuned for news about date and venue, which should be firmed up very soon!
What a fun way to start the year! a series of RiverProject concerts at Abrons Arts Center, each one so different from the next, with an array of wonderful musicians, from Loadbang and the Guidonian Hand the first night, to Newspeak and Will Lang the next, and then the last night with Taylor Levine, Malcolm J. Merriweather, and special guest Ron Blessinger, who paddled all the way from Portland, OR to get here… and of course Mary Rowell with me every night, that’s a central part of the whole experience! I feel so lucky to work with all these wonderful musicians, who also happen to be excellent humans, which really makes it great!
Here are a few links to interviews and press about the festival; over the next few days and weeks we’ll be posting some live recordings and more fun stuff.
We’re hard at work getting ready for three concerts of River Project music at Abrons Arts Center in late January: wrangling rehearsal schedules for more than 25 people, making special arrangements and generating parts for River Project music for three different rosters of players, organizing tech riders, instrument movers, press releases, all that endless stuff that goes into doing shows, even before a single sound gets made. In a way I feel very far away from the river, and from the urges and pleasures that got me out there two years ago. but then I realize it’s all about the river, and the anxiety recedes and I can just keep paddling.
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