Until It Blazes is an amplified solo piece for piano, guitar or other plucked string instrument, harp, marimba, or vibes. The piece requires a stereo multi-tap digital delay for processing, and some kind of distortion processing for the ending. You can also perform the piece using a MIDI keyboard or mallet controller. (If you’re using a MIDI instrument, you can implement the delay in MIDI, if it’s easier to do that than to use an audio delay.)
The piece’s duration is variable: I imagine it could work at any duration between six and twenty minutes. I have made a twelve minute version, but it is only one possible version of the piece: please don’t regard it as definitive.
The overall idea of the piece is to set up various repeating patterns and then gradually group the notes so that new melodies grow out of the accents. For example, when you are playing a three-note pattern, if you accent every fourth event, you will get one melody; if you accent every fifth event, you will get a different melody.
There are six patterns in Until It Blazes, each an outgrowth of the previous pattern. In each case, you will first want to establish the pattern very softly with no accents at all, and then very gradually begin to stress a grouping that creates a slower melody arcing across the pattern. This accenting happens gradually during a slow overall crescendo, reaches some high point, and then the accenting recedes as you diminuendo. The length of the piece will vary depending on how slowly you want the cross-melodies to build and recede. The most interesting place is where you can hear both the pattern and the melody that cuts across it.
Prior to beginning to play the piece, you can say the words: “I have cast fire upon the world, and watch, I am guarding it until it blazes.” This line is attributed to Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
Cory Arcangel has created a video for the piece that can be played back in live performance. If you are interested in this aspect of the piece, please get in touch with me.
The stereo delay should be set up as follows: The left channel should have a delay time of 454 ms (equivalent to a dotted eighth at MM = 99) and should give three repeats. The right channel should have a delay time of 303 ms (equivalent to an eighth note delay at MM = 99) and have four repeats. The delay should be set to approximately 70% of the volume of the direct sound. The direct sound should come from the center of the stereo field.
Once you have reached the last pattern, you want to very gradually bring in distortion or some other processing that gives the feeling of a watched fire beginning to blaze. Performers have handled this in a variety of ways, and I am open to all of them.
Until It Blazes is dedicated to Kathy Supové with love and thanks.
There are four recordings of Until It Blazes currently available; all are performed on guitar. Here is Giacomo Baldelli’s 2018 recording, which is preceded by Kate Soper performing the text. Here is Giacomo Fiore’s recording; here is Emanuele Forni’s; and here is Seth Josel’s. As you prepare to play the piece, you might also want to listen to my original keyboard version.
Until It Blazes is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to April 15th to hear a live performance by Derek Johnson in Seattle in February 2020.
I normally ask people to pay $25 for this score, but because this piece is totally workable for a solo player to put together in isolation, I have made it set-your-own-price until live concerts are a thing again. I hope it provides you some good times in the meantime: