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.
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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Wolf Chaser: for amplified and processed violin, wolf chaser, optional percussion, electronics, and optional video
In the early summer of 1995, the violinist Robin Lorentz gave me a wolf chaser ― a tool made of whale baleen for scaring wolves in the Arctic. It had been a gift, in turn, from the man who made it, James Nageak. I sampled the wolf chaser and made a recording that slowed the sound down so far that you can HEAR the sampling rate as a rhythm (sort of the audio analog to the jaggies you see when displaying curves at low resolution on a computer.) That recording is the bed for this piece for acoustic wolf chaser, amplified and processed scordatura violin, and optional metallic percussion. In 2008, Vittoria Chierici (with editor Phil Hartley) made a video to accompany live performances of the piece.
Here’s the video with Robin Lorentz’s recording of the piece:
Click here for the score of the piece, which includes all the information you need to know about playing it.
If you would like to play the piece, please order the materials below and let me know the following information:
whether you want to do the percussion part live (I haven’t yet implemented the percussion processing in Ableton’s Live, but can do it easily with a bit of notice.)
in which format you want the video (DVD or embedded in Ableton)
proposed dates of your performance(s), so we can figure out logistics for getting you the wolf chaser.
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.
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.
fromAt the Landing
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.
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 by visiting April 19 in my ongoing project A Book of Days.
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.
The Flood (1928)
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.
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:
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.
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Light up Your face began as a piece about the murder of Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963. Eudora Welty wrote a story the next night from the point of view of the murderer, who had not yet been identified. It has been hailed as an uncanny portrait of the killer, but it is wrong in one important respect. Byron De La Beckwith was not an impoverished nearly illiterate redneck, he was an upstanding middle class salesman and WWII veteran, who along with participating in the White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan, regularly attended the Episcopal Church in Greenwood, MS.
That last fact is the inspiration for the piece, which includes an excerpt from Eudora Welty’s story against my harmonization of the chant version of the refrain of Psalm 80: Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.
After three trials, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of first-degree murder in 1994.
The video for Light up Your face is a collaboration between Bradley Wester and Matt Petty. Bradley works with an image of Medgar Evers’ home in Jackson, Mississippi, and the carport where he was killed. Matt Petty’s contribution is a meditation on the murder of James Craig Anderson in Jackson in 2011, a murder committed by a group of white high school students from the neighboring town of Brandon. The students were convicted of their crime and are currently serving time in federal prison. The family of James Craig Anderson asked that the murderers be spared the death penalty.
Light up Your face is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to the piece by visiting June 12th.
The original version of this piece is for actor, singer, and piano. You can download it here. The piano part can be replaced by chamber ensemble or chorus. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, let me know your needs. Please get in touch with me for more information about showing the video as part of your performance.
And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!