Can I have it without begging?

Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and Can I have it without begging? is the seventh in the series. Can I have it without begging? takes as its starting point Ballade #19: Amours me fait desirer. The line that ends all three verses is “Que je l’aie sans rouver”, which translates to something like: “…so I can have it without begging.”

Against the backdrop of the “Me too” movement, I understand the lyrics of Machaut’s song as part of a long history of attending to the lover’s feelings and ignoring the specificity of the beloved. Machaut talks about Love, not the specific woman, he regards himself as victimized by desire, he will die without it. I am fascinated by how I respond to that pronoun — “it” — how for me at this moment, it embodies everything wrong with how heterosexual desire is depicted in Western culture.

The piece I have made is for live flute and pre-recorded flute samples (recorded on bass and C flute by Margaret Lancaster.) The piece begins with the premise that the live and pre-recorded lines are in the same universe, they want the same things. But the live flute keeps trying to become a soloist, to relegate the pre-recorded track to accompaniment, getting more and more frustrated, begging for something that can never be achieved if the track is merely background.

The irony is that the “failure” the piece embodies is actually pretty fun to listen to. Sort of like the endless number of romantic comedies we’ve all grown up watching.

Can I have it without begging? was commissioned by the National Flute Association, Inc. for the 2018 Young Artist Competition. Special thanks to Lisa Bost, Wayla Chambo, and Margaret Lancaster for their thoughtful advice and artistry as I was writing the piece.

The piece will be October 6th in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. That’s the day after the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times in 2017.

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TO THE PERFORMER:

The backing track starts softly and gets substantially louder; when setting levels, you’ll want to keep that in mind! Perhaps you should set the loudest level towards the end of the piece before beginning to play. At the beginning of piece you should strive to match the pre-recorded track (in volume and attitude); a certain tentativeness is attractive. Gradually become more and more self-serving and egotistical as the piece continues. By the end, you want to have something of a temper tantrum: you are playing the role of a perpetrator after all: don’t be polite!

Here is a score of the piece, please purchase the necessary performance materials by clicking the buy button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Preciosilla

Preciosilla is a song setting of Gertrude Stein’s poem that places the text in the realm of the rhythm section instead of in the realm of the melody where lyrics are conventionally found. The composer’s reading of the text was sampled by an Akai S1000. The flutist’s melody has quotes from pop love songs and other familiar music embedded in musical stream-of-consciousness writing that attempts to emulate Gertrude’s handling of text. The piece is dedicated with love to Mary Rodríguez, and Margaret Lancaster’s recording of the piece appears on Mary’s birthday in my ongoing project,  A Book of Days.

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Cousin to Clare washing.


In the win all the band beagles which have cousin lime sign and arrange a weeding match to presume a certain point to exstate to exstate a certain pass lint to exstate a lean sap prime lo and shut shut is life.


Bait, bait, tore, tore her clothes, toward it, toward a bit, to ward a sit, sit down in, in vacant surely lots, a single mingle, bait and wet, wet a single establishment that has a lily lily grow. Come to pen come in the stem, come in the grass grown water.


Lily wet lily wet while. This is so pink so pink in stammer, a long bean which shows bows is collected by a single curly shady, shady get, get set wet bet.


It is a snuff a snuff to be told and have can wither, can is it and sleep sleeps knot, is is a lily scarf the pink and blue yellow, not blue nor odour sun, nobles are bleeding bleeding two seats two seats on end. Why is grief. Grief is strange black. Sugar is melting. We will not swim.


Preciosilla


Please be please be get, please get wet, wet naturally, naturally in weather. Could it be fire more firier. Could it be so in ate struck. Could it be gold up, gold up stringing, in it while while which is hanging, hanging in dingling, dingling in pinning, not so. Not so dots large dressed dots, big sizes, less laced, less laced diamonds, diamonds white, diamonds bright, diamonds in the in the light, diamonds light diamonds door diamonds hanging to be four, two four, all before, this bean, lessly, all most, a best, willow, vest, a green guest, guest, go go go go go go, go. Go go. Not guessed. Go go.


Toasted susie is my ice-cream.

• Gertrude Stein

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Preciosilla is performable by any single-line instrument plus tape, although up to now I believe it has only been done by flute players. The original version was made for Suellen Hershman, which she premiered on bass flute. There’s also a mix with an extended opening I made for Margaret Lancaster, which she plays on alto and C flute. You can use either version, or you are welcome to make your own mix of the opening and embed your favorite love songs so you have your own custom version. Get in touch with me if you’d like to do this, and we’ll figure out how to get you the materials you need to make a new mix.

You should feel free to alter and inflect the score in any way that helps you to express yourself and interact with the track better. Listen to this compilation playlist of tunes and steal from them or from other love songs whatever suits your instrument or your own personality and capabilities.

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The pre-recorded track is in five sections. It’s probably best for you to trigger these events yourself rather than having a sound person do it for you. Setting up a footswitch to trigger the cues is really easy in Ableton, if you have access to that program. You could also embed the sound files in ForScore I think, though I haven’t tried that yet.

When you purchase the materials using the PayPal button below, I’ll send you a performing score and an Ableton session with the two alternative versions set up for you to perform with. (The Ableton version only requires Ableton Lite, but if you want to use a different program, you can of course import the audio into your software of choice.)

Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing, and I look forward to hearing what you do with the piece!

DETAILS

From the Same Melancholy Fate

From the Same Melancholy Fate (2015) is an improvisatory piece for any instrumentalist, inspired by visionary artist Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man. Pete Gershon, author of Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments, introduces the Flower Man’s story this way: “after seventeen years as a homeless alcoholic, he had a near-death experience in the gutter in 1983. Then, a divinely inspired vision of a whirlwind of colorful junk prompted him to devote the rest of his life to brightening his neighborhood and the lives of countless visitors with the deft arrangement of colorful refuse.” The Flower Man worked on his whirlwind constantly, roaming the neighborhood to forage for abandoned treasures to add to his ever-evolving yard show. But immediately after the Flower Man’s final illness and death (in December 2013), the house and its array of urban detritus began to decay. On 7 February 2015, the city demolished the structure, and it is now a vacant lot. Matt Petty’s video documents that day.

The player is given a pre-recorded track which has as its base my reading of Louise Glück’s poem recorded and re-recorded in space so that it is engulfed by room resonance (a la Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room), along with additional layers of music and song. The performer records every performance of the piece, and each performance recording becomes the pre-recorded track for the next performance. Thus the original track gradually disappears into the new layers, the performer responds to his/her previous self as part of the counterpoint of sound, and every performer’s tape part is unique, a palimpsest of previous performances of the piece.

The title of the piece comes from a gravestone Matt Petty showed me the day after I met him for the first time. In the white people’s cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the gravestone says in its entirety: “Negro, From the Same Melancholy Fate.”

Not I, you idiot, not self, but we, we—waves
of sky blue like
a critique of heaven: why
do you treasure your voice
when to be one thing
is to be next to nothing?
Why do you look up? To hear
an echo like the voice
of god? You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives: you go
where you are sent, like all things,
where the wind plants you,
one or another of you forever
looking down and seeing some image
of water, and hearing what? Waves,
and over waves, birds singing.

—Louise Glück: Scilla: from Wild Iris

In addition to being part of Lighten Up, a multimedia project about visionary visual arts, the piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit 19 January to watch and listen to Alison Bjorkedal’s third pass on the harp. You can go here to hear David Steele’s second pass on the clarinet, and here to hear Timothy Rosenberg’s second pass on the saxophone.

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To perform From the Same Melancholy Fate, you’ll start with the original pre-recorded track (with the optional video.) You’ll record your performance of the piece each time you play it, and use that performance recording as the pre-recorded track for your next performance. Gradually, the original track will be obscured under the layers of your successive performances.

I’d love for you to send me performance recordings periodically so I can hear where your version of the piece is going. My idea is to gather a bunch of different versions after some time has passed, and figure out some interesting way to present them as a group.

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Please use the PayPal button to purchase the materials. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

I will not be sad in this world

Originally written for alto (or bass) flute, I will not be sad in this world is based on the Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova’s song Ashkharumes Akh Chim Kashil. The piece is often played on the duduk, and your flute playing should respond to the ornamentation, intonation, and vibrato of traditional duduk playing.

I will not be sad in this world is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Tim Munro’s live recording by visiting June 28th. There are several studio recordings available, including those by Marya Martin, Manuel Zurria, and Claudia Anderson.

Thanks to Marya Martin who commissioned the piece for the Flute Book for the 21st Century. You can purchase the performance materials here. Many thanks to my dear friend and colleague Margaret Lancaster, who tried out the piece for me and advised me about notation. Thanks also to the Civitella Ranieri Foundation who were my generous hosts while I was writing I will not be sad in this world.

DETAILS

Walking Music

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 trusting elation 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.

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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!

Waiting for Billy Floyd

Waiting for Billy Floyd was written in response to Eudora Welty’s short story, At the Landing, which takes place in a town called Rodney, Mississippi, that I visited during a trip down the Mississippi River in November 2009 with Mary Rowell and again over Easter weekend 2010 with H. C. Porter. The river pilot and poet David Greer was my guide and compass, both practically and conceptually, through this part of Mississippi, and it was he who selected which Welty stories I needed to re-read and which towns I had to be sure not to miss. I am grateful to these three traveling companions, and to Despina Sarafeidou, who helped me when I got stuck.

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Whenever she thought that Floyd was in the world, that his life lived and had this night and day, it was like discovery once more and again fresh to her, and if it was night and she lay stretched on her bed looking out at the dark, a great radiant energy spread intent upon her whole body and fastened her heart beneath its breath, and she would wonder almost aloud, “Ought I to sleep?” For it was love that might always be coming, and she must watch for it this time and clasp it back while it clasped, and while it held her never let it go.

Then the radiance touched at her heart and her brain, moving within her. Maybe some day she could become bright and shining all at once, as though at the very touch of another with herself. But now she was like a house with all its rooms dark from the beginning, and someone would have to go slowly from room to room, slowly and darkly, leaving each one lighted behind, before going to the next. It was not caution or distrust that was in herself, it was only a sense of journey, of something that might happen. She herself did not know what might lie ahead, she had never seen herself. She looked outward with the sense of rightful space and time within her, which must be traversed before she could be known at all. And what she would reveal in the end was not herself, but the way of the traveler.

“She’s waiting for Billy Floyd,” they said.

The original smile now crossed Jenny’s face, and hung there no matter what was done to her, like a bit of color that kindles in the sky after the light has gone.
from At the Landing

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Here is Newspeak’s live performance of Waiting for Billy Floyd.

Here are scores for two different versions of Waiting for Billy Floyd.
original sextet version [fl, cl, vln, vc, pf, perc]
octet version [Newspeak version: as above, plus guitar and trombone]

When you order the performance materials by clicking the button below, please let me know the instrumentation you need. There is some flexibility, so talk to me if you have specific needs for your ensemble.

A set of images of Rodney, Mississippi can be projected as part of the performance of the piece. Please let me know if you would like those materials as well.

DETAILS

Until It Blazes

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. You can also perform the piece using a MIDI keyboard or mallet controller. If you’re using a MIDI instrument, I can supply a Max patch that implements the delay as MIDI delay, 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.

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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 can begin to 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.

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There are three recordings of Until It Blazes currently available; all are performed on guitar. Here is Giacomo Fiori’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 watch Cory’s video and listen to an excellent live performance by Eric Mellencamp of the Robin Cox Ensemble on vibraphone.

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You can download a pdf of the score and information here. If you perform the piece, please let me know.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Take Your Joy

Take Your Joy is a piece for SATB mixed chorus (minimum 6-6-3-3 singers, but the bigger the better) and electronics. The piece is a response to an organ piece by Olivier Messiaen called Puer natus est nobis, which is part of the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The choral part is a canon made from Messiaen’s harmonization of the traditional Christmas day introit. I have also incorporated an excerpt from John 16:21-23:

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you will have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

The electronic part, both the pain and the joy, is made using transformations of a recording of the olive-tree warbler (hippolais olivetorum). This birdcall appears transcribed for organ in Messiaen’s piece. The olive-tree warbler uses Palestine/Israel as a stopover in its winter migration between the Balkans and southern Africa.

Take Your Joy was commissioned by the Amherst College Choir, Mallorie Chernin, conductor, and written in October 2004 while in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Take Your Joy is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a demo recorded by Corey Dargel, Joseph Hallman, and me at the Atlantic Center, please visit April 6th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For the pre-recorded track needed to perform the piece, please click the button:

DETAILS

Making Hey

Making Hey, for spoken voice, piano four-hands, bass, and as many percussionists as you’d like, was written for a festschrift published by Open Space Magazine celebrating my composition teacher, JK Randall.

The text for Making Hey is a gratuitously excellent piece of anonymous work that arrived in an email offering to increase my penis size or refinance my mortgage. I no longer remember which, since I lack both. (This method for confusing spam filters is called Bayesian poisoning, and there’s some pretty cool math involved, I recommend checking it out.)

I have set the text (unchanged except for punctuation) to an adaptation of a two-piano piece called Making Hay, which I wrote in 1980 and dedicated to Jim at that time. This new piece starts out with the same student piece, but gradually clarifies and simplifies it in response to the bass and percussion line I have added all these years later.

The bass and percussion are an adaptation of a Gnawa performance I’ve totally fallen in love with. You can listen to it at this Youtube link:

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Making Hey is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the piece by visiting June 16th.

You can download a score of the piece here. The percussionist(s) should come up with their own interpretation of Gnawa rhythm when performing the piece. You can purchase performance materials for the other instruments by clicking the link below.

And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

DETAILS

Dust

The music of Dust was originally part of a score written for the Axis Dance Company and choreographed by Victoria Marks. The excerpted version adds this text from Ezekiel.

So the Spirit lifts me up, and I hear behind me the sound of a great rushing, “blessed be the glory of the Lord in his dwelling place!”… the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against one another, and the sound of the wheels over-against them, the sound of a great rushing.

The Spirit has lifted me up, and takes me; and my heart, as I go, overflows with bitterness and heat, and the hand of the Lord is heavy upon me.

Dust is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording and see Matt Petty’s accompanying video of the Prophet Isaiah Robertson and his visionary artwork in Niagara Falls by visiting October 5th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. The piece can be performed by female or male alto, or by any instrumentalist whose instrument is right for the solo part. If you would like a version with a different transposition or clef, just let me know when you order the pre-recorded track.

You can also feel free to add percussion to a live performance of the piece. Bicycle wheels have been used as instruments for this purpose quite effectively.

You are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Einhorn

Einhorn is inspired by a poem by Rilke that I had been thinking about working with for more than ten years. Love creates a space in which the impossible becomes real: how amazing is that?! Einhorn was commissioned by Lydia Van Dreel and is dedicated to her with vast affection.

O dieses ist das Tier, das es nicht gibt.
Sie wußtens nicht und habens jeden Falls
– sein Wandeln, seine Haltung, seinen Hals,
bis in des stillen Blickes Licht – geliebt.

Zwar war es nicht. Doch weil sie’s liebten, ward
ein reines Tier. Sie ließen immer Raum.
Und in der Raume, klar und ausgepart,
erhob es leicht sein haupt und brauchte kaum

zu sein. Sie nührten es mit keinem Korn,
nur immer mit der Möglichkeit, es sei.
Und die gab solche Stärke an das Tier,

daß es aus sich ein Stirnhorn tried. Ein Horn.
Zu einer Jungfrau kam es weiß herbei –
und war im Silber-Spiegel und in ihr.
Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus II:4

Oh this beast is the one that never was.
They didn’t know that; unconcerned, they had
loved its grace, its walk, and how it stood
looking at them calmly, with clear eyes.

It hadn’t BEEN. But from their love, a pure
beast arose. They always left it room.
And in that heart-space, radiant and bare,
it raised its head and hardly needed to

exist. They fed it, not with any grain,
but always just with the thought that it might be.
And this assurance gave the beast so much power,

it grew a horn upon its brow. One horn.
Afterward it approached a virgin, whitely —
and was, inside the mirror and in her.
translated by Stephen Mitchell

When I was first thinking about the poem in the summer of 1997, I asked my friend Hunter Ochs to record the German and I recorded the English translation.

Hunter’s German reading:

Eve’s English reading:

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Here’s a score of the piece in pdf format.

The premiere recording of the piece is on Lydia’s 2014 CD New Millennium Music for Horn.

Einhorn is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Lydia’s recording by visiting September 29th.

If you would like to perform Einhorn, please follow the paypal link below and we will send you all the performance materials.

DETAILS

A Big Enough Umbrella

In A Big Enough Umbrella, the solo violist starts off trying to imitate the synth bass, fails at that, and gradually wraps herself in strings who can help her express herself more naturally. I wrote the piece in the midst of a certain amount of turmoil in my mid-20s. The original 1984 version has synth strings as the accompaniment; in 2013, I recorded Mary and Fran Rowell performing the string orchestra parts for a solo performance version with pre-recorded real strings. The piece has also been performed all-live by solo viola, string orchestra, and dueling synth bass players. The title comes from a line in a then-current pop song by the Police: “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” (Sting has reused the line in three different songs over the years: I guess he like likes it a lot, too.)

A Big Enough Umbrella was originally commissioned by and dedicated to the violist Lois Martin, supported by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

You can hear Michael Strauss playing A Big Enough Umbrella with the original pre-recorded synths at September 19th in A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

You can perform the piece with pre-recorded synth track (i.e. the original 1980s synth version); with pre-recorded acoustic track (i.e. with real strings on the backing track); or I can send string orchestra and synth keyboard parts for live performance. Please click the donation button below and let me know which version you would like:

DETAILS

Early in the Morning

I remember having once walked all night with a caravan and then slept on the edge of the desert. A distracted man who had accompanied us on that journey raised a shout, ran towards the desert and took not a moment’s rest. When it was daylight, I asked him what state of his that was. He replied: ‘I saw bulbuls commencing to lament on the trees, the partridges on the mountains, the frogs in the water and the beasts in the desert so I bethought myself that it would not be becoming for me to sleep in carelessness while they all were praising God.’

Yesterday at dawn a bird lamented,
Depriving me of sense, patience, strength and consciousness.
One of my intimate friends who
Had perhaps heard my distressed voice
Said: ‘I could not believe that thou
Wouldst be so dazed by a bird’s cry.’
I replied: ‘It is not becoming to humanity
That I should be silent when birds chant praises.’
Sa’di: Gulistan II:26

Early in the Morning was inspired by a text in the Gulistan (Rose Garden) by the 13th century Persian poet and mystic Sa’di, which is said to be one of the most widely read books ever produced. Saadi was beloved by Emerson and Thoreau, and a quotation from his poetry adorns the entrance to the Hall of Nations in New York, but his work is currently virtually unknown in the United States.

While traveling down the Mississippi River in 2009, I was awakened in Iowa one night by an incredible din of frogs and insects. I recorded the racket, and its percussion creates the rhythmic material for the piece. About a year later, I happened upon a work chant from the Mississippi Delta called Early in the Morning,” which was recorded in the 1947 by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. An adaptation of that work song became the basis for this piece.

Well, it’s early in the morn-
in the morning, baby
When I rise, Lordy mama
Well, it’s early every morning a-baby
When I rise well-a well-a
It’s early in the morning, baby
When I rise, Lordy baby
You have-, it’s I have misery, Berta,
Wa, in my right side
Well-a, in a my right side, Lordy baby-
R-in-a my right side, Lordy, sugar.
Well, it’s I have a misery, Berta,
R-in-a my right side, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well-a, it’s-a, Lordy, Ro-Lordy-Berta,
Well, it’s Lord (you keep a-talkin’), babe,
Well, it’s Lord, Ro-Lordy-Rosie,
Well, it’s, o Lord, Gal, well-a.Well-a, whosonever told it, That he told a-
he told a dirty lie, babe.
Well-a, whosonever told it, that he told a-
he told a dirty lie, well-a.
Well-a, whosonever told it, that he told a-
he told a dirty lie, babe.
Well the eagle on the dollar-quarter,
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.
He gonna rise and fly, sugar.
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.
Well the eagle on the dollar-quarter,
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well-rocks ’n gravel make -a
Make a solid road
Well-a takes a-rock –a gravel make a
To make a solid road, well-a
It takes a good lookin woman to make a
To make a good lookin whore
Well-a It takes a good lookin woman, Lord, Baby
To make a good lookin whore, Lord sugar
It takes a good lookin woman to make-a
To make a good lookin whore, well-a

(Chorus)

Boys, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
On the schoolhouse door, sugar.
Well, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
R-on the schoolhouse door, Well-a.
Well, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
On the schoolhouse door, sugar.
Well he pecks so hard, Lordy, baby,
Until his pecker got sore, well-a,
Until his pecker got sore, Lordy, baby,
Until his pecker got sore, Lord, sugar.
Well he pecks so hard, Lord, mama,
Until his pecker got sure, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well, hain’t been to Georgia, boys,
but, Well, it’s I been told, sugar.
Well, hain’t been to Georgia, Georgia.
But, it’s I been told, well-a.
Well, haint been to Georgia, Georgia.
But, it’s I been told, Lord, mama.
Work Song, Parchman Farm, 1947

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. This score is the version for flute, clarinet, violin/viola, cello, piano, and percussion. There are other orchestrations of the piece for up to 16 players. If you would like a customized orchestration for your ensemble, up to and including concert band, please get in touch with me.

Early in the Morning is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Kisatchie Sound’s recording of the piece, which is called the Lulu in the Gaslight Mix, by visiting September 14th.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Play Nice

When Elizabeth Panzer asked me for a harp piece, I came up with an idea for a big piece based on a poem by Linda Norton (the poet of Landscaping for Privacy) about knitting and the Aran Islands. I still plan to make that piece, but as the deadline neared, I realized I will need more time to write it, so instead I decided to work with a sweet redemptive pattern I had written as an underscore for an audiobook production of Gerald’s Game, one of Stephen King’s more horrific novels. The resulting piece is totally diatonic, doesn’t even require two octaves, uses standard minimalist variation techniques, and in virtually every way plays nice.

I think it’s actually a mean little thing.
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There are two recordings available:

The harp version is recorded on Elizabeth Panzer’s CD, Dancing in Place.

A toy piano version (played by two people) is the title cut on twisted tutu’s CD.

Play Nice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the twisted tutu version by visiting December 5th.
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Here is a score (.pdf) of the solo version.

Here is a score (.pdf) of the duo version.

The graphic is based on a drawing by Emma Grady Pawl.
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Getting to Know the Weather

Getting to Know the Weather was inspired by Pamela Painter’s short story of the same name, which tells of a woman embarking on a job search after a divorce in midlife. I read the story and wrote the piece while going through my own divorce (and coming out process) in my late twenties.

The weather of my piece is Chromatic Lydian, which was considered by Plato to be too sensual and lax to be suitable for the education of guardians. Getting to Know the Weather composes out the kind of non-systematized, non-superimposing fooling around one sometimes does with new material and situations. The piece was originally written for saxophone player Marshall Taylor and dedicated to him with respect and affection.

Getting to Know the Weather is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to David Steele’s bass clarinet version by visiting 27 October.

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Getting to Know the Weather was originally written for baritone saxophone. That version is available from Dorn Publications. Here is a version for bass clarinet. I can supply other transpositions: just let me know what you need what you order the piece.

The instrumental part should be played like the bass line in a funk tune. If you play it solo, you will want to viscerally imagine a beat in your mind as you play the piece, and reflect the groove in your playing. If you perform with a drummer, please invent a groove together that makes it as fun as possible to play the piece. I can supply a modified version of James Brown’s Funky Drummer groove with some additional kitchen percussion if you want to work with a pre-recorded track, or of course you can feel free to make your own.

If you want to add an octave doubler or other processing to the instrumental sound, that’s fine with me. In any case, you probably want to amplify the instrumental player.

I have notated the score in chromatic Lydian throughout, though you will quickly hear that sections of the piece could be notated in F# minor or in A major. I hope that consistency of notation will outweigh whatever initial difficulties you might have with the unorthodox spelling.

Dynamics have generally not been notated since they grow naturally out of your playing. Start soft, get loud, and end quietly within a generally loud level throughout.

And don’t play it too fast: it’s sexier slower.

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My Feelings Now

The lyrics of My Feelings Now are adapted from various things the Indonesian dancer and choreographer Hartati said during a residency we both had in Los Angeles in the summer of 1996. I wrote the song in Wyoming while in residency at Ucross in August of 1996. (Thanks to both Judy Mitoma and the Ford Foundation for the APPEX program that brought all of us together, and to the Ucross Foundation for the residency time that freed me to write the piece.) My Feelings Now is dedicated to Tati with love.

For the twisted tutu version of the piece, Kathy Supové and I performed against a quiet taped background of Robin Lorentz on violin, mixed with an electronically manipulated recording of Indonesian flute and vocal music performed by Sawir St. Mudo and Mira Tanjung.

My Feelings Now is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear twisted tutu’s version of the piece on August 12th. It’s also available on twisted tutu’s CD Play Nice.

If you want to perform the piece this way, please contact me for the pre-recorded tracks. But there are many ways to flesh out the song, and I am very open to you making whatever versions you feel will work effectively. Similarly, you should feel free to transpose it to reflect your vocal style and range. If you need a transposed score, please get in touch with me.
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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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Landscaping for Privacy

Landscaping for Privacy was written in August-September 1995 for twisted tutu (Kathleen Supové, keyboards and Eve Beglarian, vocals) while we were in residence at the Bellagio Center in Italy under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. The poem is by Linda Norton. The keyboard part was written to be played using the arpeggiator function of a synth keyboard, sort of like a new convertible with an automatic transmission. I tried to capture the fragile elation urban types feel at driving out of the city on a beautiful Saturday morning in spring.

Landscaping for Privacy

Make a pagoda of thyself!
–Herman Melville

Ultima multis
–inscription on a medieval sundial

The hedges along the parkway, the trees, the trees–
They sashay, they nearly genuflect, they breathe.
It’s good to breathe; it’s good to get away in summer,
It makes you feel clean. The city, the squalor, the mess,
That’s what’s killing us. Did I tell you about the rat
I saw in the subway last night? It had a swollen belly
And no fear, it went right for a transvestite in heels!
Enough; I know; not here, not now; I should relax,
Shut up, let go. Oh, yes, Long Island’s very fresh and nice;
Do they have rats out here, or just field mice? And I forget,
What do people do with themselves in the suburbs?
The streets are empty, the lawns unused. If I lived here,
I’d spread out, I’d hang a hammock, I’d keep sheep,
I’d dig a well. I’d build hummocks to my own
Specs, I’d be positively pastoral.

But you’re right, of course. Of course, you’re right.
I couldn’t keep sheep, there’s probably an ordinance,
They’d shoot me for ruining property values.
But what’s property, anyway? Years ago
I read about a pillar of roses in an English garden
And so I own it, I have the deed by heart.
Speaking of which, pull over, look,
Here’s a surprise for you. Check out my bicep.
Do you like my new tattoo?

What do you mean, “What is it, did it hurt?”
It’s a miniature gazebo! Of course it hurt!
Note the incredible detail, the wicked craftsmanship.
See–it’s a garden pagoda for me and you,
With ivy, and grass, and a snake in the grass.
Hey, what are you doing? Oh yes, that’s good,
Yes, kiss it and make it better. Because
It did hurt a bit. In fact, it hurt like hell
(Remember that night when you touched me
And I yelled?)

OK, let’s drive, let’s tour the hydrangeas
And the lawns. What could be more suggestive
Than a grassy mattress? Maybe that TV glowing
In a darkened den, shades nearly drawn.
Slow down, slow down–that’s strange: a sick room,
A suburban tomb, on a day like this,
With the clouds all starched and bustling
In a Disney sky. Look, they have a gazebo, too,
Jam-packed with rusted rakes and trash.

If I had their lawn I’d soak it and sun bathe on it,
I’d sleep out under the stars, I’d walk to the mall
And strap a sack of fertilizer to my back and hike
All the way home. We’ve lived in the city far too long,
Yes, that’s what’s killing us. That, and this monument
To love we lug, this brick inscribed FOREVER.
Let’s let it sink. Let’s kiss. Give me the wheel,
I’ll drive so you can look at clouds.

“All clouds are clocks,” bulldozing time.
Do you remember who said that?
A pauper? A philosopher?
Well, he was right,
Those pretty clouds are bullies–

Bouffant armada,
Fluffy but cruel,
Ushering last days for many.
–Linda Norton

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There are three versions of the piece: the original version for narrator plus the PC88 keyboard’s arpeggiator; a version for narrator with acoustic piano and playback; and an ensemble version (voice, alto flute, bass clarinet, vibes, marimba, and piano.)

A recording of Landscaping for Privacy is on my CD Tell the Birds and also on the compilation CRI Emergency Music.

Landscaping for Privacy is May 30th in my ongoing project A Book of Days.
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score of piano (plus playback) version –> (.pdf)
score of all-acoustic ensemble version –> (.pdf)
score of original arpeggiator version –> (.pdf)

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Play Like a Girl

Play Like a Girl was commissioned for the BASK Collective by the University of Idaho for a multimedia project in which the keyboard player, Kristin Elgersma, asked for the possibility of playing either grand piano or toy piano, or both, depending on performance constraints. My solution was to write a set of eight variations on Kaval Sviri, one of those Bulgarian Women’s Chorus pieces that were a surprise hit in the late 1980’s. If their ferociously joyous singing is girl music, I’m there! Some of my variations are for grand piano, some for toy piano, and some for celeste or harpsichord or other “girly” instruments, I’m open. The variations can be played in any combination, simultaneously (with pre-recorded tracks) or successively, allowing for a total of eight factorial (40,320) versions of the piece.

After I completed the piece, I learned that the same song had been adapted as the theme music for the late 90s cult classic TV show Xena: Warrior Princess. Now that I’ve checked out the show, I’m definitely enjoying picturing Lucy Lawless in full battle garb playing the toy piano like the girl she is.

Here is a link to the Bulgarian State Women’s Chorus performance of the arrangement that inspired my piece:

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Here is a score of the complete piece in pdf format.

Play Like a Girl is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days, where I post a different version of the piece on the 13th of each month. I’ve also made a downloadable streamable playlist of various demos and live performances, check it out!

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get a link to download all eight individual scores and recordings, which will allow you to perform the piece in any way you like. If you’d like an Ableton Live session with my MIDI and pre-recorded tracks already loaded, I can send you that also.

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You can also read a short take on “being a girl” in the second paragraph of this blog post from The River Project.

Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie

Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie is the first of a series of pieces that use the music of Machaut as a jumping-off point for various juxtapositions of his art with mine. This one was originally written in 1986 for Daniel Druckman (percussion) and Alan Feinberg (piano) as an opener for their duo recitals.

The Tisch School of the Arts commissioned an arrangement of the piece for flute, Bb clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion in 1990 so that choreographer Monica Levy could use it for a dance work.

Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the ensemble version by visiting March 17th.

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Currently there are three versions of the piece available, the original duo for piano and pitched percussion; a trio version for toy piano and piano with percussion (one player on vibes and glockenspiel), and the chamber ensemble version.

When you order the performance materials by clicking the button below, please let me know which version you need. The instrumentation can be changed beyond the three versions above, so talk to me if you have specific needs for your ensemble.

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Spherical Music

Spherical Music was written in 1985 as part of an electronic piece called The Garden of Cyrus. (A recording of that piece is available on my CD Overstepping.) At the time, I made a version for twelve marimbas which Daniel Druckman recorded and performed with eleven parts on tape. In 1998, Danny called and asked me to make a version for twelve players on six marimbas. I made substantial revisions in the orchestration for this version, and I think it’s beginning to approach what I was hoping for it to be in the first place: an algorithmic music where the rule-based events feel like more than mere arithmetic, where they become a kind of magic numerology.

There’s a quotation from the Divine Comedy that embodies what I was aiming for when I wrote the piece:

E come l’alma dentro a vostra polve
per differenti membra e conformate
a diverse potenze si resolve,
così l’intelligenza sua bontate
mulitiplicata per le stelle spiega,
girando sè sovra sua unitate.
Dante, Paradiso II: 133-138

And as the soul within your mortal clay
is spread through different organs, each of which
is shaped to its own end; in the same way
the high angelic Intelligence spreads its goodness
diversified through all the many stars
while yet revolving ever in its Oneness.
John Ciardi’s translation

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In addition to the original electronic version available on Overstepping, Jane Boxall’s solo marimba version of the piece is available here. Al Cerulo’s brand new multiple instrument arrangement and recording is posted as part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to it by visiting March 3rd.

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Here’s the score of the 1998 twelve players on six marimbas version. When you purchase the materials through Paypal below, you will receive all the materials necessary to perform the piece.

If you want to do a solo version, you will first want to record all twelve parts and then mute the parts you want to play live. Here’s one possible solo version of the piece. However, once you’ve spent the time recording all twelve parts yourself, you are likely to have your own favorite path through the piece, so I encourage you to make your own solo performance version. If you want the score in Finale, XML, or MIDI format to make editing your own version easier, please request it when you order the materials.

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Michael’s Spoon

The inspiration for Michael’s Spoon was this text from the end of J.M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel The Life and Times of Michael K.

And if the old man climbed out of the cart and stretched himself (things were gathering pace now) and looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained, saying, ‘What are we going to do about water?,’ he, Michael K, would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.
J. M. Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K

Michael’s Spoon was originally written as an all-electronic piece which is the second movement of the five-movement piece The Garden of Cyrus. That piece was released on my 1998 CD, Overstepping.

Michael’s Spoon is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the electronic version and watch Mechele Manno’s video by visiting February 9th.

The chamber ensemble version of Michael’s Spoon was originally made in 2004 for performances by the Robin Cox Ensemble. You can download a score of that version here. You are welcome to substitute instruments as desired for your ensemble. Alternatively, the piece can be performed by a solo player on the cello part (or shared by low brass), with all the other parts pre-recorded. Here’s a performing score of the two-trombone version. When you order the performance materials by clicking the button below, let me know what instrumental alterations you need. Thanks for your interest in Michael’s Spoon!

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Wonder Counselor

Wonder Counselor gets its title from the Jerusalem Bible translation of Isaiah 9:6, which is more familiarly translated as “…his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” I am delighted by the idea of a higher power serving as my wonder counselor, maybe dressed as a scout leader, taking me around to point out the marvels of the world. While I was initially thinking about the piece, I did a concordance search for the word “wonderful” in the Bible and found the following proverb:

Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.
Proverbs 30:18-19

The piece embeds these four wonderful sounds into an electronically transformed recording of a single organ sonority. The live organist then plays a loose set of variations on the sequence “Res est admirabilis” (“It is a wondrous thing”) from the thirteenth century Gradual of Eleanor of Brittany. The sequence is aptly-named: it has some of the strangest counterpoint I have ever heard. I was introduced to it by Marcel Peres’ excellent recording.

Wonder Counselor was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists to celebrate their 100th Anniversary and premiered at their National Convention by Kyler Brown at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York in July 1996. I want to thank Kyler Brown and Reverend Edgar F. Wells for their advice and insight while I was making this piece.

Wonder Counselor is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording by visiting February 4th, or by purchasing a recording of Tell the Birds.

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To play the complete piece single-handedly requires a four-manual organ, and is very difficult! Please contact me if you would like that solo version. In the meantime, I have made a duo version which can be performed by two live players, or with KBD2 pre-recorded (or MIDI-controlled) and KBD1 played live by a single player. If you wish to play the piece on a single synth rather than a two-manual organ, you can map the swell notes (marked p in the score) to trigger as they sound in the score, but played two octaves below where they are written, and then map the bomb notes (marked f in the score) to go from middle C up, just as they appear in the score. Please get in touch if you would like clarification of any of this!

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I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long

I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long is a piece for violin and electronics that starts from a recording I made of leaky pipes in a bathroom at the Beijing Conservatory and incorporates melodic material from a traditional Armenian song called Tsirani Tsar (Apricot Tree.) The title comes from a line in Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. The piece was written for Mary Rowell and is dedicated to her with vast affection.

I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long is September 6th in A Book of Days.

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• here is the score

• here is the solo violin part

If you are interested in performing the piece, please order the necessary performing materials below. You are welcome to arrange the piece for other instruments, and for additional live performers on the other lines. Let me know what you need, and we can make it work.

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13one

13one was written for the trombonist Will Lang. He asked for a thirteen-note piece that could be played solo or in conjunction with other thirteen-note pieces. I decided to make my piece an homage to John Cage on his 100th birthday.

You are welcome to play the version I cast for Will for the premiere, which is in the downloadable score you will find below. Each of the thirteen notes should be played for the duration of one breath at a generally quiet dynamic. The thirteen notes do not need to be played evenly: let your breath determine the duration of each note. Also, if a particular hexagram speaks to your condition, feel free to milk it.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE YOUR OWN VERSION OF 13one:

Cast the I Ching using whatever method you prefer. (There is of course an app for this.) Use the chart you will find in the score to translate each resulting hexagram into a note. If the hexagram you cast has changing lines, the next note should be the one associated with the hexagram that results when you change the lines. If your cast for the thirteenth note gives you a hexagram with changing lines, you can

  1. sing the note of the original hexagram while playing the note of the changed version (or vice versa)
  2. vividly imagine the changed version’s note after you finish playing the thirteen written notes
  3. sing the note to yourself at some later time
  4. use it as the first note of your next performance of the piece
  5. invent your own use for the extra note

If you wish, you can play the piece into a very long delay a la Brian Eno. Set the delay to be longer than the duration of any individual note you are likely to play. Depending on the regen you set, the delay can end up keeping all thirteen notes in play, with a fadeout to nothingness as the delays gradually dissipate. A standard delay pedal is not likely to be long enough for this purpose: you will probably need a computer. I have made a Max for Live patch that implements a long delay (up to 13 seconds), which I am happy to send you when you order the performance materials.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

13one is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Matthew Petty’s live performance with the long delay by visiting September 5th.

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Fireside

Fireside was commissioned in 2001 by pianist Sarah Cahill in celebration of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s centennial. The piece sets a poem Ruth Crawford wrote when she was thirteen years old. The harmony is a response to her fifth prelude. Fireside is dedicated to women composers of the future, who will undoubtedly be making devil’s bargains of their own.

Here is the text of Ruth Crawford’s poem.

Fireside Fancies

When I sit by the side of the blazing fire
On a cold December night,
And gaze at the leaping and rollicking flames
As they cast their flickering light

I see what I would be in future years,
If my wishes and hopes came true,
And the flames form pictures of things that I dream,
Of the deeds that I hope to do.

One tall yellow flame darts above all the rest,
And I see myself famed and renowned,
A poetess I, and a novelist too,
Who is honored the whole world around.

That flame then grows dim, which to me seems to say,
That my first hope must soon die away,
Then another one darts on a great opera stage,
The most exquisite music I play.

And then, after many flames rise, and die down,
The first burns even and slow,
And I see myself singing to children my own,
On the porch of a small bungalow.

Oh, I dream, and I dream, until slowly the fire
Burns lower, grows smaller, less bright,
Till the last tiny spark has completely gone out,
And my dreams are wrapt up in the night.
Ruth Crawford, age 13

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

Fireside is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 30th to hear the recording the young pianist and composer Vera Weber made in February of 2018.

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