Ay mi!

Ay mi! (Machaut in the Machine Age IV) is one of a number of pieces I’ve been making since the 1980s responding to the delightful secular music of the 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut.

This one was made for a 1960s era Magnus electric chord organ given to me by the composer Art Jarvinen. The instrument is about the size of a toy piano and has a two octave range. I made a piece for twisted tutu, my duo at the time with Kathleen Supové, where she played the chord organ’s keyboard while I played the percussion part on the plastic case of the organ. We attached contact mics to the instrument and doubled the pitch down a fifth, as well as applying a delay at the beginning and the end of the piece.

TO THE PERFORMERS

If you have access to a chord organ, that’s the ideal instrument for performing the piece. But of course, you can play the chord organ part on a synthesizer, which you should set up with an organ patch and a pitch shifter that gives you both the notated pitch and the fifth below (i.e. transpose by -7 semitones).

In addition, you want to set up a delay that captures both the percussion and the keyboard. Set the delay to repeat at the interval of one bar of 6/8 in whatever tempo you’re playing the piece. It will be 2000 ms if you’re playing the piece at the tempo I’ve specified. The feedback/regen should give you between seven and eight reps before it fades to zero. The score indicates where to turn on and off the delay; you’ll want to put it on a switch you can activate or bypass easily.

If you don’t have a chord organ, but you happen to have a harmonium, an accordion or another suitable instrument available, please feel free to perform it on your instrument, I’d love that!

And of course the percussion part can be done by clapping or patting your own body if tapping the keyboard player’s instrument isn’t the right thing. And if you have other ideas for the percussion part, I’m very flexible about it!

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Ay mi! (Machaut in the Machine Age IV) is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my synth version by visiting 17 July.

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For a performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Peggy in the Twilight

Peggy in the Twilight is one of a set of songs I’ve been making with James Moore, Andie Tanning, and Jim Fletcher, based on the poetry of James Tate. This one is for speaking violinist and guitar. We’re calling the project What are the Chances?, which is the last line James Tate wrote. I don’t think we know yet whether that’s the name of the band as well.

Here’s the text of Peggy in the Twilight.

Peggy spent half of each day trying to wake up, and the other half preparing for sleep. Around five, she would mix herself something preposterous and ’40s-ish like a Grasshopper or a Brass Monkey, adding a note of gaiety to her defeat. This shadowlife became her. She always had a glow on; that is, she carried an aura of innocence as well as death with her.

I first met her at a party almost thirty years ago. Even then it was too late for tragic women, tragic anything. Still, when she was curled up and fell asleep in the corner, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love. Petite black and gold angels sat on her slumped shoulders and sang lullabies to her.

I walked into another room and asked our host for a blanket for Peggy.

“Peggy?” he said. “There’s no one here by that name.” And so my lovelife began.

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Peggy in the Twilight is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a demo recording of the piece by visiting 25 October.

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For a performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by June Jordan.

HEY

C’MON
COME OUT

WHEREVER YOU ARE

WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE

AIN’ EVEN BEEN
PLANTED
YET

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES was written as the closing song in a cycle called finish what I haven’t started, about mid-century middle class female unhappiness. Other songs in the cycle set poems by Anne Sexton, Jane Bowles, and Lucille Clifton. finish what I haven’t started was commissioned by the Brooklyn Art Song Society with partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and premiered by Devony Smith and Danny Zelibor in April 2022.

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my recording of the piece by visiting 7 March.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Circumference

Circumference is a small piano etude written for my friend Ryan McMasters as I am beginning work on a larger piano piece about Emily Dickinson for Donald Berman. I was practicing the Major 7th exercises in Patterns for Jazz at the time. Each hand of this little etude is not difficult, but putting them together will keep you engaged for a while!

Emily Dickinson wrote to Thomas Higginson in 1862, “My Business is Circumference.”

Circumference is 26 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear a recording of the piece there.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Plunge

Plunge is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott. It will soon be part of a cycle based on his poetry, commissioned by Frederick Peters and Music from the Copland House for Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin. Another song in the cycle is Peace (Pascal).

at night one drop of rain
falls from each star
as if it were being lowered
on a string

and yet that storm of plummets
is never enough
to wet any of the planets
that pass through it

only the blackness the space
between us is washed
away by these singular
lettings-down of water

distance is washed away
all the worlds merge
for a liquid moment
our island eyes

and suddenly we understand
why umbrellas love
to dive
into clouds

Plunge was written in July 2022, when the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were being shared. Written for AddieRose Brown and Edward Forstman, it is dedicated to them with great affection.

Plunge is 12 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin’s recording of the piece there.

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To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave off the right hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the accompanying pianist is welcome to play only the left hand part or to improvise a right hand part to accompany the singer: see what works best for you!

For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Peace (Pascal)

Peace (Pascal) is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott.

There is a valley
Is the oldest story.

Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.

By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs.

No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see
Another valley.

Note:
“Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.” –Pascal

The piece was written in slightly belated honor of Fred Peters on his 70th birthday, and is dedicated to him with vast affection. Despite Fred’s boundless energy and love of ALL the valleys, he is also quite able to sit quietly in a small room, which might be the best combination of personal qualities there is!

Peace (Pascal) was premiered on September 15, 2022 at The Century Club, New York City, by Music from Copland House (Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano and Michael Boriskin, pianist) at the celebration honoring Fred’s many years of service to NMUSA.

Peace (Pascal) is 28 December in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave out the left hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the (separate) pianist is welcome to play only the right hand part or to play the left hand melody in any octave that pleases you both.

If you like, you can precede a performance of the song by reading the Pascal quotation: “Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.”

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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See Right Through Me (Albert’s Confession)

See Right Through Me is a song for a vocalist accompanying themself on cuatro. Originally written for The Vicksburg Project, an evening-length show about the experiences of women and gender-expansive people in Vicksburg, Mississippi, it is the imagined confession of Albert Cashier, an illiterate Irish orphan who enlisted in the Army soon after emigrating to the United States alone.

Albert served the Union for four years, then returned to Illinois to work as a handyman and gardener. Late in life, he was hit by a car and taken to the hospital, where the doctors determined that Albert must have been assigned female at birth. So they dressed him in women’s clothes, and put him in an insane asylum, where he died from a fall he sustained tripping over his unaccustomed skirts.

The song incorporates allusions to Walt Whitman’s early poems about the war, a quotation from a Sean nós song called “Táim curtha ó bheith im’aonair im’lui (I’m weary of lying alone)” and from a then popular poem about dead comrades called “Oft in the Stilly Night.”

See Right Through Me is 9 November in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

TO THE PERFORMER

The song is written for a transgender, genderqueer and/or gender-expansive person who inhabits the masculine. You should transpose the piece so that the first section sits as low as possible in your tessitura, and the last section needs to feel vulnerably high. Easy for an untrained voice, harder for a professionally trained singer. The middle section should be sung without particular regard to the accompaniment: you keep playing the A section chords, but you sing the battle section in a marching 12/8. Please make sure you re-align with the accompaniment correctly before starting the final section “Everyone knows.”

If you can’t get hold of a cuatro, you can adapt the piece for ukulele or acoustic guitar.

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For a performing score (along with the optional warped recording of a hermit thrush you can trigger as a momentary underscore), please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Hard4the$

Hard4the$ is a piece for solo flute and pre-recorded track that explores the current gender and racial pay gap in the United States, a pay gap that became particularly glaring in COVID days, because so many black and/or female workers have been both essential and underpaid.

The piece is a set of four abstractions of the 1983 classic Donna Summer/Michael Omartian tune “She Works Hard for the Money” played simultaneously. Each layer has been given the name of a universally known public figure who represents the race and gender of that layer: Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Michelle’s variation is the only one that is the full length of the four minute piece: the others are shorter (and faster in tempo) in proportion to how much more quickly people of that gender and race are statistically likely to earn the same amount of money. Thus, Brett’s variation is only 2:28.

On the other hand, Brett’s multi-layer variation is played fortissimo on piccolo while Michelle’s is played pianissimo on alto flute, so Michelle is only actually heard when Brett and the others successively finish playing. (Hillary is mezzo forte, and John is mezzo piano.)

It is suggested that the player take on a different role each time he/she/they play the piece. Depending on the role the live player chooses to take, the piece will be a very different experience for both player and listeners.

Hard4the$ is 31 March in my ongoing project A Book of Days, because 31 March was Equal Pay Day 2020 in the United States; that is, how far into the year women had to work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In 2022, Equal Pay Day has moved up to March 15th, seemingly good news that is complicated by the fact that women of color actually lost pay compared to their white male counterparts.

Statistically, the Bretts of America are doing just fine, while the Michelles continue to clean up all our messes. Something is wrong with this picture.

Hard4the$ was commissioned by Hal Ide for Claudia Anderson’s solo show Glass Ceilings, and premiered online at the 2021 National Flute Association convention. Many thanks to Allison Loggins-Hull, Eric Lamb, Claudia Anderson, and Tim Munro, who recorded Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh (respectively) for the pre-recorded track.

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TO THE PERFORMER

In any given performance, the player can choose which role to play. Brett is piccolo; Hillary is C flute; Michelle is alto flute; John is bass flute. The pre-recorded track will function as an enlarger of your live role, but the overall balances should stay the same. So, for example, Michelle — both live and pre-recorded — will be drowned out until the very end. That’s pretty much true of John as well. Hillary will obscure John and Michelle, but Brett completely takes up all the air in the room as long as he’s around.

I suggest you practice the role you’ve chosen to take on by playing your solo part with the pre-recorded track for JUST your character first: e.g. if you’re doing Hillary live, practice with only the pre-recorded Hillary tracks until you are satisfied with your pitch, timing, and blend.

You should aim to be equal to (NOT louder than) the pre-recorded tracks of your character: the reality is even if you are softer than the pre-recorded tracks, we will hear you better because we are watching you play.

In live performance, you may want to have an in-ear monitor mix of your live character’s pre-recorded tracks and click (set to the correct tempo for your live character’s part, of course.) The total mix then can be routed to the speakers in the hall, but you won’t have to listen to the entire blend, which is kind of overwhelming if you’re not playing Brett.

Depending on what space you are playing in, you may want to add reverb to your playing: you want to match the pre-recorded track of your character: Brett has the least and shortest reverb, and Michelle has the most and longest reverb. (If you haven’t yet decided which role to play and/or you don’t want to process your sound, you should choose the role that best matches the natural sound of your concert space.)

On any given concert, you are welcome to play the piece up to four times, taking on different roles each time.

I’m not sure any individual performance of the piece is actually satisfying, which is kind of the point.

There might be a better way forward?

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For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Be Like Water

Be Like Water is the ninth piece is a series called Machaut in the Machine Age that I’ve been working on since the 1980s responding to the music and poetry of 14th century composer/poet, Guillaume de Machaut. The piece was commissioned by duoJalal and was originally imagined for viola and hand percussion.

My piece is a response to section four of Le lai de la fonteinne, which having compared the beloved to Mary, and Mary somehow to the Trinity, is now talking about water, which being a fountain, a stream, and a source while remaining water is, like the trinity, three things in one. The descending three note motif in a three-part canon at the unison is text-painting of such simultaneous simplicity and cunning that I had to explore it in this trio between viola, percussion, and pre-recorded track, setting up the piece so that those three become one in yet another way:

There are 21 tracks (3 times 7), each of which can be assigned flexibly to either of the two live players (played acoustically or as triggered samples) or as pre-recorded tracks, so that without seeing a live performance, you can’t tell which of the three is doing what.

The piece can also easily be presented as a multiply overdubbed piece, which may be particularly appropriate during pandemic times, as was the case when Machaut wrote the Lai (during the Black Death), and when I wrote this piece (during COVID-19).

It’s all water. 

Be like water.

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The original version of the piece is for viola, hand percussion, and backing track, which can be a pre-recorded track, or an Ableton session.

You can visit February 16th in my ongoing project A Book of Days to hear a demo of the piece, which might give you some ideas about how you’d like to adapt it for yourselves.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $33, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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All Good is Luck

All Good Is Luck is a piece inspired by something a guy named Kenny Quentin said to me out of the blue one night in December 2009 at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, Louisiana: “Not all luck is good, but all good is luck.”

I had just finished up a human-powered trip down the Mississippi River, and was very aware of my amazing luck in having done it without major mishaps. But even so, luck (good or bad) is one of those ideas I don’t really know what to do with. 

It was pure random luck that I happened to meet Kenny that night, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I’m grateful to Kenny for his gnomic statement, and I’ve come to translate it for myself as:  “Not everything that happens in the world is good, but everything we call “good” is something that happens in the world.”

A further bit of luck is that I was doing a stint teaching beginning electronic music at Middlebury College in January 2014, when a student named Ian Ackerman came up with a very cool lick that inspired this curious new piece for me. Thanks, Ian, for letting me steal your lick! And thanks, too, to Mary Rowell for working with me to develop the violin solo.

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The original version of the piece is for violin and electric guitar. The current revised version is a two-violin version I adapted for Miolina, which requires live processing on both instruments, but guitar-hero-style processing on only one 😉 . I’ve set up an Ableton session with stock plugins to get you started, but you will certainly want to adjust from there.

You can visit December 23rd in my ongoing project, A Book of Days to hear a pre-release version of the recording Miolina will be putting out on their next album.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Who Else

I received Crispin Best’s poem from Matthew Ogle’s Pome in the early days of lockdown. I made a piece from it in May 2020.

Who Else

i tell the same stories
again and again
because who else is going to
and what are the builders making

apart from a racket
the black mould in my room makes it feel
like the wall is learning something

i tell my computer i’m not a robot
when it asks
because who else is going to

i can’t believe you thanked me
for sleeping in your bed

if a tree falls in the forest
that’s fine

• Crispin Best (2019)

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You can hear my recording of Who Else by visiting 23 March in A Book of Days.

For performing materials, click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Fresh Air

Fresh Air is for saxophone quartet, the then-new TR-808, and the Sequential Circuits Pro-One. I made it before the MIDI spec was formalized, so the track had to be spliced together small chunk by small chunk, limited by the twenty-event memory of the Pro-One’s sequencer, which was triggered by CV coming from the 808.

I think this might be the earliest piece I’ve posted here, but I still have a warm space for it in my heart, and would be delighted for some current sax quartets to take it on.

A recording by Relâche is in A Book of Days alongside a pretty great poem by Kenneth Koch that beautifully captures how I was feeling when I made the piece. You can listen and read by visiting March 15th.

I have a copy of the pre-recorded track, and a hand copied score. If you want to play the piece, I’ll arrange to get parts copied for you if playing from score seems too wonky.

Please write to me if you’re up for it, and we’ll figure out how to proceed.

 

 

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Everything

Everything is a song for female voice and bass flute. It is part of a song cycle called The Story of B, the lyrics of which are adapted from the poetry of Pierre Louÿs, a fin-de-siècle French poet who claimed to be translating ancient Greek lesbian poetry, but in fact he made it all up himself.

The original French text that I used to make my adaptation goes like this:

Tout, et ma vie, et le monde, et les hommes, tout ce qui n’est pas elle n’est rien. Tout ce qui n’est pas elle, je te le donne, passant.

Sait-elle que de travaux j’accomplis pour être belle à ses yeux, par ma coiffure et par mes fards, par mes robes et mes parfums?

Aussi longtemps je tournerais la meule, je ferais plonger la rame ou je bêcherais la terre, s’il fallait à ce prix la retenir ici.

Mais faites qu’elle ne l’apprenne jamais, Déesses qui veillez sur nous! Le jour où elle saura que je l’aime elle cherchera une autre femme.

Here’s my version:

Everything: my life,
the world, the men,
everything that is not her
is nothing.

Does she know how hard I work
to be beautiful to her?

I would row to China,
I would build a pyramid,
I would plow the dark earth
with my bare hands.

Goddesses, don’t let her know.
The day she learns I love her
she will look for another.

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You can hear my recording of the piece with my longtime collaborator Margaret Lancaster on bass flute by visiting 10 October in A Book of Days.

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And you can download the performing score by clicking the paypal button below and paying whatever amount you think reasonable, with my thanks for supporting this informal way of publishing:

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Ascension

Ascension was written for a production of Part II of Goethe’s Faust, called Faust 2.0 and premiered by Mabou Mines in New York in 2019. The lyricist Matthew Maguire generously agreed to focus on the lines from the Magnificat and the Beatitudes that talk about turning the world upside down — the idea being that those lines manifest the revelation embodied in what we call “feminine energy.”

I am not enough of a Goethe person to be able to say if we successfully mirrored Goethe’s vision, but I really like what Matthew came up with, and really loved writing the music for this lyric.

My broken one, my wayward Faust,
You were the proud one
No more, no more.
You were the mighty one
No more, no more.

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty
from their thrones

The one who strives will always stray,
So you, the greatest striver,
Became the greatest sinner
Seduced by power’s dark embrace
You turned away from grace

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Broken you finally feel
Blind you finally see
That’s the miracle of Love’s sacrifice
And that is why, my Beloved one
I’m calling you to Paradise

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit…

The wonderful Andrea Jones Sojola, who played Mary in the Mabou Mines production, recorded a version of the piece that you can hear by visiting August 15th in A Book of Days.

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If you would like to perform the piece yourself, please click the paypal link below, and we will send you the score and the backing track needed to perform the piece. The charge for the piece is normally $25, but in these pandemic days, I’ve set it to pay-as-you-like, with thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

 

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De toutes flours (Machaut in the Machine Age II)

Machaut in the Machine Age II is one of a series of pieces responding to the art of Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377.) This one is working with a few samples from an old LP recording of the ballade De toutes flours.

I made the piece for the duo Basso Bongo {Robert Black, contrabass & Amy Knoles, MIDI percussion} at the height of the AIDS crisis. The poet and translator William Mullen came up with this version of the medieval French:

Of all my garden’s many fruits and flowers
none is left me but a single rose.
Not one, of all the rest that once were ours,
weathered Fortune’s blasting: Fortune who knows
how to undo her bloom,
blast her hue and her perfume.
If by your wicked tricks my rose should fall,
desire another love I never shall.

The piece can be performed by a solo bass player with a pre-recorded track as well as by a duo where the electronics are performed live.

Machaut in the Machine Age II is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit January 17th to hear Ryan McMasters’ 2022 recording of the piece.

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We will send you all materials necessary for performing the bass solo version, unless you ask specifically for the materials that will allow you to play the piece with live electronics (and an additional player on some kind of MIDI controller.) The fee for the materials was originally $35, but I have set it to pay-as-you-like, with my thanks for supporting this way of publishing:

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In Huts and on Journeys

In Huts and on Journeys is a piece for spoken voice and as many mobile phones as available. Everyone within sound range of the spoken voice performer can participate. Please play the sound file that corresponds to the month of your birth. If there is a playback system in the space, you can seed the space with an additional optional stereo mix I will provide. The sound files don’t need to be strictly coordinated: one person – perhaps the spoken word performer – starts, then the others can press play whenever they feel the urge to join in. The spoken word performer can play their birth month sound file, or if there is no playback system, they can play the stereo mix file.

In Huts and on Journeys is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit May 19th to hear a recording I made in thanks to Lainie and Herb Alpert on the occasion of receiving the Alpert Award in the Arts in 2017.

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When you purchase the materials, we will send you a link to a page with the twelve sound files and the optional additional stereo mix, as well as a copy of the text for the spoken word performer, along with many thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

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Another Time

My friend and colleague Lara Downes asked a bunch of us to write small anniversary pieces in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. I took the opportunity to read the Humphrey Burton biography that had been languishing on my shelf for years, and to re-listen to lots of Bernstein, which was simultaneously fascinating, beautiful, and sort of heartbreaking, as time with Lenny often is.

So Another Time is inspired by a few things:

• the octave leap in bar 5 of the melody of Some Other Time (from On the Town). If you haven’t heard Barbra’s incredible live recording, I recommend it with my whole heart:

• Agnes de Mille’s report that LB was fired for dropping in a 5/8 or 7/8 every now and then when accompanying dance classes back in the day,

• the story that West Side Story has a song highlighting each interval (Maria is the tritone, Somewhere the minor 7th, etc.)

So this little piece could be played in 4/4, but I alternate 7/8 and 4/4. The melody fragments cycle through intervals starting with the octave in bar 2, the 7th in bar 5, and so on.

You can listen to Lara’s recording by visiting Lenny’s birthday in A Book of Days.

And if you would like a copy of the score, please click the Paypal button below.

I normally charge $5.00 for the piece, but in these lockdown days, I’ve made it pay-as-you-like. And thank you, as always, for supporting this very low key way of publishing:

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Tower of Ivory

Tower of Ivory is one of a series of pieces in an ongoing project called Where Your Treasure Is, about the gradual decay of a large painting I inherited, a painting of an Irish burial mound. Each piece in the four-part series is a meditation on a text from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the text for Tower of Ivory is this one:

Eileen had long thin cool white hands too because she was a girl. They were like ivory; only soft. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory but protestants could not understand it and made fun of it. One day he had stood beside her looking into the hotel grounds. A waiter was running up a trail of bunting on the flagstaff and a fox terrier was scampering to and fro on the sunny lawn. She had put her hand into his pocket where his hand was and he had felt how cool and thin and soft her hand was. She had said that pockets were funny things to have: and then all of a sudden she had broken away and had run laughing down the sloping curve of the path. Her fair hair had streamed out behind her like gold in the sun. Tower of Ivory. House of Gold. By thinking of things you could understand them.

The music for Tower of Ivory takes off from an Irish traditional tin whistle tune known as Salamanca. I was introduced to the tune from a recording that was given to me by the poet Linda Norton. The whistle player may be Neansai Finnerty, but I’m not really sure.

Margaret Lancaster recorded fourteen tracks(!) of flutes on bass, alto, C flute and piccolo to make the pre-recorded tracks that accompany the live piccolo player. There is a bit of synth bassoon family as well, that may be replaced by real bassoons, contras, English horns, and so on in a future version of the piece.

The piece is December 21st in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can visit there to hear Margaret Lancaster’s recording of the piece.

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Here is a study score for Tower of Ivory.

To purchase the materials needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. Normally, the charge is $35, but in these pandemic days, I have made the price pay-as-you-can. Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Enough

Enough was written for an evening of political songs organized and performed by Dora Ohrenstein, Kathleen Supové, and Robert Black. It is a setting of one of William Blake’s Proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:  “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”  As you will notice, the piece devolves into the Bach chorale Es ist genug (it is enough) at the end.

A larger ensemble version of the piece is the final section of my piece The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The piece is May 23rd in A Book of Days.

You can download a score of the piece here. When you click the Paypal button, you’ll get complete performance materials for the piece.

 

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

 

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Where Your Treasure Is: Mistake

Mistake is one of a series of pieces called Where Your Treasure Is, about the slow disintegration of a painting I inherited. The painting is of an Irish dolmen, a burial mound, and I have placed it on a glacial erratic on my land in Vermont, where I am documenting its gradual decay into the landscape.

The text that inspires the piece is from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.

The piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit March 21st to listen to the piece, with a video by Emma Courtney.

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Here is a score of the piece, which requires four keyboard players on three pianos (or electronic keyboards.) In addition, there is a drumset part, which can be improvised by a live player, or done as a pre-recorded track.

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Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

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Open Secrets

Open Secrets was a semester-long project in spring of 1999 at RPI sponsored by Chris Jaffe, in which architect Malcolm Holzman and I worked with teachers and students in architecture and intermedia on “an investigation of the relationships between acoustics, architecture, and music and an exploration of spaces, both secret and revealed, natural and mediated.”

The core idea was to play with visually and sonically encoded versions of a text from Hebrews: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

It was a crazily ambitious and fun project! There’s a 1999-era website devoted to documenting our work together. It could use some updating, but it’ll give you an idea.

A musical translation of the Morse code version of the text was played by Kathy Supové on toy piano in an anechoic chamber hidden beneath a ramp.

You had to be there.

That score was turned into a cool little music video by Duff Dufresne, and can be seen and heard in A Book of Days, on 18 November. If you’d like to play the piece, in or out of an anechoic chamber, please get in touch with me!

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Well-Spent

Well-Spent (2011) was written in response to a line in one of Leonardo’s notebooks that I came across soon after traveling down the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle in 2009.

L’acqua che tochi de fiumi, è l’ultima di quella che andò, e la prima di quelle che viene; così il tempo presente. La vita bene spesa lunga è.
Leonardo: Notebook 1174

The water you touch in a river
is the last that has passed
and the first that is coming;
so with the present moment.

The well-spent life is long.
(evb translation)

The pre-recorded track of Well-Spent is made from Mary Rowell’s recording of the Muddy Waters 1942 tune You Got to Take Sick and Die Some of These Days. Well-Spent was commissioned by Ron Blessinger and the Third Angle Ensemble in memory of Donna Drummond. Many thanks to the Montalvo Arts Center, where I made the piece.

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To hear a live performance by Mary Rowell please visit April 19  in my ongoing project A Book of Days.

It’s also possible to perform Well-Spent with two live violins along with the pre-recorded track. You can hear the duo version performed by Ron Blessinger and Mary Rowell on this recording.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

The charge for the performance materials is normally $50, but it is now pay-as-you-like until public performances are possible again. After you click the button below, you’ll get a link to download the pre-recorded track. If you’d like an Ableton Live session for easy click playback, just let me know.

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The Flood

The Flood is a setting of a poem Robert Frost wrote in 1928, in response to the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that destroyed a million homes, drove hundreds of thousands of people – mostly poor and African-American – north, and transformed America.

Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
Weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.

My land in Vermont is just a few miles from where Frost lived for many years, and I felt what I imagine to be a parallel rage and impotence in response to Katrina.

The Flood is one piece in a projected evening-length project about floods and transformation, which will also respond to the ongoing tragedy of Katrina, the Biblical flood, and the Mississippi River and its place in American culture.

The Flood is October 22nd in my ongoing project A Book of Days. The premiere recording of the piece is on Songs from the River Project, Volume 1.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I’m open to you arranging it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind. I can supply you with a backing track for your specific needs.

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

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No Delight in Sacrifice

No Delight in Sacrifice is a short response to my least favorite masterpiece, The Rite of Spring. I’ve taken materials from Stravinsky’s dazzling work and re-shaped them to stand against the glamorization of killing in the name of higher powers and for the joy of renewal and rebirth that spring embodies. The bassoon begins the piece with a plainchant version of Psalm 51 that was my guide in this re-composition: “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.”

No Delight in Sacrifice was commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in celebration of their 80th Anniversary Season, and was premiered in Burlington on 6 December 2014 on a concert that included The Rite of Spring.

No Delight in Sacrifice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the premiere by visiting May 29th.
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You can download a score of the piece here. You can purchase performance materials by clicking the link below.

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

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Machaut in the Age of Motown

Machaut in the Age of Motown (2005) is a transcribed mashup of two pre-existing works: The Bells, written by Marvin Gaye (1970) as sung by The Originals, and Tels rit from the Remede de Fortune (1340) written by Guillaume de Machaut as sung by the Project Ars Nova Ensemble. It’s the fifth piece in a series called Machaut in the Machine Age, which I have been making every now and then since 1986 in response to the music and poetry of Guillaume de Machaut, the fabulous 14th century French composer.

You can listen to a live recording by the awesome students at NMOP 2018 here.

And you can listen to the original mashup by visiting 7 November in A Book of Days.

While the piece was originally scored for soprano sax, clarinet, violin, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset, I am happy for the piece to be adapted for your forces. Here’s a score of a version for soprano and alto sax, viola, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset.

For a set of performance materials, please click the paypal button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.