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!

Thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

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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.

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

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All Ways

All Ways was commissioned by Frederick and Alexandra Peters for a project called Songbook for a New Century, an evening of songs about the millennium. I chose this text from Stephen King’s novel It, because I felt I didn’t know anything about the new century.

You don’t know you don’t always

I was right about that.

All Ways is November 27th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my live performance of the piece there.

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The piece was originally written for voice and piano. The piano/vocal score is here. And here is a draft copy of a score which lays out all the conceptual parts. I can orchestrate it to your specifications, just let me know what you’d like.

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

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Cave

Cave was commissioned by the St. Louis ensemble Synchronia for a program investigating the theme of America in Y2K. The text is by Eileen Myles. It is the third piece in the last year I have been asked to write on this subject*, and I’m noticing that I know less about the meaning of the millennium, or the future in general, the more I’m asked to write pieces about it. I have, however, had several excellent conversations about souls with Ansel Elgort, who is six, while I’ve been writing this piece, so I dedicate it to him with love and thanks for his friendship.

* see the continuous life for another

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Cave is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit July 3rd to hear a recording.

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The piece was originally made for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard (or piano and vibes), spoken voice, and electronics. There is also an optional video by Clifton Taylor.

Here is a score of the piece, and here’s a set of parts. I’m open to you adapting it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind. If you wish to use the original DX7 patch, download this zip file of the patch in various formats that may be useful for re-creating the patch.

I will send you the pre-recorded track when you order the piece by clicking the paypal button below.

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Do Not Be Concerned

Do Not Be Concerned is the first piece I wrote specifically for my ongoing project A Book of Days. At the time, I was imagining writing a piece for every preset in the General MIDI spec: this piece uses the Calliope Lead (patch #83) to accompany a recitation of a line from the Gospel of Thomas.

A live performance of the piece on synth requires a MIDI echo effect: I have a version implemented already in MOTU’s Digital Performer. If you need it in some other program, I can give you the specifications for the effect so you can set it up yourself.

You can perform the piece as a solo, reciting the text as you play, or you can do it as a duo: one person plays while the other speaks.

Do Not Be Concerned is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit February 21st to listen to the piece along with my pre-911 slideshow of images of Soho.

And this is Nick Griffiths’ 2014 live performance on piano with no processing. It’s a very different take on the piece, and I’m delighted by it!

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

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Not Worth

Not Worth was commissioned by the New York City ensemble Sequitur for an evening of cabaret songs based on the theme of money. I chose and adapted a text from the Analects (Lun Yu 4.5) of Confucius.

Riches and glory,
everyone loves riches and glory.
But if you can’t get them the right way
They’re not worth winning.

Poverty and obscurity,
everyone hates poverty and obscurity.
But if you can’t get rid of them the right way
They’re not worth losing.

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Not Worth has been recorded by Sequitur with Kristin Norderval singing; the disk is called To Have and To Hold and you can buy it here.

Not Worth is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Karol Bennett’s excellent live performance by going to February 3rd.

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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.

For a full set of performing materials, you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

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Five Things

Five Things was written on 23 October 2001. The text is Thomas Cleary’s translation of a Song Dynasty (10th to 13th century) letter to a Zen Master Xiang:

• What has been long neglected cannot be restored immediately.

• Ills that have been accumulating for a long time cannot be cleared away immediately.

• One cannot enjoy oneself forever.

• Human emotions cannot be just.

• Calamity cannot be avoided by trying to run away from it.

Anyone who has realized these five things can be in the world without misery.

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Five Things is November 14th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please go there to hear a live recording by the Robin Cox Ensemble on clarinet, cello, and woodblock, with me doing the text.

Judson Wright has made an animation that can be projected in performances of the piece. Contact me for more details.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I can supply you with different transpositions and clefs, as needed.

If you are going to perform the piece in public, I would really appreciate you supporting this low-key way of publishing by purchasing the performance materials, by clicking on the paypal button below:

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the bus driver didn’t change his mind

02.11.02

Hi Bus Driver Visitors:

One of many emotions that has come up for me post 9/11 is an intense form of feminist rage, something I feel quite uncomfortable about, if I can be honest, having always thought myself quite beyond all that. But when I got this Bang on a Can commission, the first thing I thought of was this poem by the Bangladeshi troublemaker Taslima Nasrin. (She had a fatwa issued against her in the mid-90’s and seems to have pretty much disappeared from public life.) Originally I was going to set it in the piece, but I decided not to. Here’s how it goes:

Character

You’re a girl
and you’d better not forget
that when you step over the threshold of your house
men will look askance at you.
When you keep on walking down the lane
men will follow you and whistle.
When you cross the lane and step onto the main road
men will revile you and call you a loose woman.

If you’ve got no character
you’ll turn back,
and if not
you’ll keep on going,
as you’re going now.

The harmonic language is mostly built of diminished seventh chords, in reference to that cool climax in the first movement of Mahler’s Second, which I was listening to because I’d been hanging out with Berio’s Sinfonia because of the “keep going” connection between the Beckett/Berio and the Nasrin text.

The pre-recorded material is constructed solely from samples of the pipa, a Chinese instrument that is conventionally played by cultivated young ladies performing elevated music for the delectation of the upper classes.

The title of the piece comes from something I read yesterday in a profile of the American troublemaker Al Sharpton in this week’s (2/18-25/02) New Yorker:

“The bus driver didn’t change his mind, Rosa Parks changed hers.”

The piece is dedicated to the memory of Samia al-Rumn.

Eve Beglarian

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the bus driver didn’t change his mind is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the Bang on a Can All-Stars premiere performance by visiting August 22nd.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format, and here’s a set of parts. I’m open to you reorchestrating it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

As part of your process in learning the piece, I urge you to listen to my sketch of the piece, where I sing the Nasrin text that later became the clarinet part. It will tell you many things that can’t be embedded in the score.

In order to play the piece, please order a copy of the backing track by following the paypal link, and thank you for your interest in the bus driver didn’t change his mind.

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Lullaby

Lullaby is for solo voice, female chorus, piano and optional vibes. It can also be done by women’s chorus where the solo part is done by the altos and the chant is done by the sopranos.

The text is a poem by Janet Lewis.

Lullee, lullay,
I could not love thee more
If thou wast Christ the King.
Now tell me, how did Mary know
That in her womb should sleep and grow
The Lord of everything?

An angel stood with her
Who said, “That which doth stir
Like summer in thy side
Shall save the world from sin.
Then stable, hall and inn
Shall cherish Christmas-tide.”

Lullee, lullay,
And so it was that Day.
And did she love Him more
Because an angel came
To prophesy His name?
Ah no, not so,
She could not love him more,
But loved Him just the same,
Lullee, lullay.

Lullaby is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 25th to hear my demo recording. The piece is also one in a series called ReThinking Mary.
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And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

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Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson for an evening celebrating the poet Stanley Kunitz. I chose his poem of the same name, which I think is a small, brutal masterpiece. I asked my mother, who I was caring for at the time, to draw me a picture of a robin. The drawing above is what she made for me.

It was the dingiest bird
you ever saw, all the color
washed from him, as if
he had been standing in the rain,
friendless and stiff and cold,
since Eden went wrong.
In the house marked For Sale,
where nobody made a sound
in the room where I lived
with an empty page, I had heard
the squawking of the jays
under the wild persimmons
tormenting him.
So I scooped him up
after they knocked him down,
in league with that ounce of heart
pounding in my palm
that dumb beak gaping.
Poor thing! Poor foolish life!
without sense enough to stop
running in desperate circles,
needing my lucky help
to toss him back into his element.
But when I held him high,
fear clutched my hand,
for through the hole in his head,
cut whistle-clean . . .
through the old dried wound
between his eyes
where the hunter’s brand
had tunneled out his wit . . .
I caught the cold flash of the blue
unappeasable sky.

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The piece has been recorded by Corey Dargel and Margaret Lancaster and is available on my CD Tell the Birds.

Robin Redbreast is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a recording of the piece by Margaret Lancaster and me by visiting March 27th.
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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. To purchase the pre-recorded track for live performance of the piece, please click on the paypal button below:

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Atque Semper

ATQUE SEMPER (2006) for flute, horn, electric guitar, bass, and piano

Atque Semper is a meditation on the early medieval hymn Ave Maris Stella. The guitarist plays a free version of the melody while the other instruments try very hard to mess it up. The pianist is torn between supporting the guitar and hanging out with the troublemakers.

Atque Semper was commissioned by the young guitarist Dylan Allegretti for Santa Fe New Music and is dedicated to him with many thanks.

Atque Semper is part of a project called ReThinking Mary, which also includes Lullaby, Wonder Counselor, Take Your Joy, and Be/Hold. Atque Semper is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by the Cal State University New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Alan Shockley, by visiting January 7th.

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Here is the score of the original arrangement. I am open to people making arrangements of the piece for different instrumentation, so if you have ideas about this, please feel free to get in touch with me at eve at evbvd dot com.

For a set of parts, please click the donation link below, with my thanks for your support of this very low-key way of publishing:

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It Happens Like This

It Happens Like This sets the recitation of a poem by James Tate against an adaptation of a traditional Persian chaharmezrab melody and dance rhythm. Perhaps the cyclical embroiderings of the chaharmezrab echo the successive embroiderings of the narrator’s tale of the goat.

It Happens Like This was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson and Works and Process, Inc. for a celebration of James Tate at the Guggenheim Museum. Many thanks to Greg Hesselink for help and advice with the cello notation, and Mary Rowell for ideas and advice for the two-instrument version.

It Happens Like This was written while in residence at the Civitella Ranieri and is dedicated with affection to Diego Mencaroni, who once loved a goat.

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.
james tate

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Here is the traditional chaharmezrab on which the piece is based:

It Happens Like This is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a live recording of the duo version by BRIM, please visit July 6th.

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The instrumental part has been done on cello, on mandolin, and on guitar. Here is a score of the original cello plus actor version. And the piece has also been done as a violin/viola duo, and as a mandolin/guitar duo.  Here is the violin/viola version of It Happens Like This. For a set of parts, please order by clicking the donation link below (and let me know if you need different transposition or clefs.)

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I am really a very simple person

I am really a very simple person is the first piece I wrote after completing a journey by kayak and bicycle down the Mississippi River. It was inspired by something the visual artist H. C. Porter said to me soon after we met, in Vicksburg in November 2009. This choral version uses solfège syllables as the lyrics for the piece, which perhaps will evoke thoughts of the old shape note singing traditions.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

I am really a very simple person is January 6th in A Book of Days. If you go to the day, you can hear a recording where I am singing all the parts.

I am open to performances of the piece by any group of instrumentalists and/or singers. I can supply you with various different arrangements I have made, or with the Finale file so you can make your own arrangement. Please let me know when you perform the piece. And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

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Did he promise you tomorrow?

I wrote Did he promise you tomorrow? on 7 February 2011 as a memorial to Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011.) The title is something a woman named Carla asked me in a bar in Los Gatos, California precisely one year earlier, on 7 February 2010, while Chris Porter and I were watching the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. I had never watched a Super Bowl before, but the fact of two river cities being in contention made it sort of a required event that year. I don’t know what Steve’s attachment to the Super Bowl may or may not have been, but I do know that he loved Louis Andriessen’s music passionately, so I have re-purposed a lick from De Volharding as the basis of the piece.horizontal rule

The piece can be performed by virtually any group of at least six instruments and/or singers. You can arrange your own score from the six conceptual lines. The pdf called vocal score is the simplest arrangement. You can look at the Newspeak arrangement to see one approach to arranging the piece for larger forces.horizontal rule

Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. Please visit  February 7th to hear a multi-instrumental and vocal version.

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You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase, we will send you a Finale file so you can make your very own arrangement of Did he promise you tomorrow?

The Island of the Sirens

The Island of the Sirens (2011) is a piece about defective transcription and the failures of translation.

I started with a recording of a warning siren I heard in Plaquemine, Louisiana, while I was traveling down the Mississippi River in the autumn of 2009. I sliced the warning siren into eight layers of partials and then asked the computer to transcribe those eight recordings into musical notation. Because the computer’s transcription algorithm was confused by the sounds, the resulting scores were quite strange. I recorded eight women singing these transcriptions, and mixed them in quasi-unison against the eight layers of electronically transformed siren. I then made three separate submixes of the electronics, which are fed into three sets of headphones for the backup performers, who can be instrumentalists or singers. The backup chorus is asked to perform in real time what they are hearing in their headphones, a task at which they will invariably fail to fulfill entirely successfully, creating yet more quasi-unison layers that deviate from the actual sound of the transformed siren.

The lead vocal, a setting of Rilke’s poem about the impossibility of describing an experience to those who haven’t shared it, is the only notated music in the piece. It also incorporates elements I heard in the siren recording, filtered through my own biases and limitations.

When his hosts would ask him late in the evening
to tell of his voyages and the perils they brought,
the words came easily enough,
but he never knew

just how to convey the fear and with what startling
language to let them perceive, as he had,
that distant island turn to gold
across the blue and sudden stillness of the sea.

The sight of it announces a menace
different from the storm and fury
which had always signaled danger.
Silently it casts its spell upon the sailors.

They know that on that golden island
there is sometimes a singing–
and they lean on their oars, like blind men,
as though imprisoned

by the stillness. That quiet contains
all that is. It enters the ear
as if it were the other side
of the singing that no one resists.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from New Poems
Joanna Macy, Anita Barrow, translators

The Island of the Sirens was written for the New York ensemble loadbang, and is dedicated to the band with vast affection. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear a live performance from the New Music on the Point festival on December 10th in A Book of Days. loadbang’s premiere studio recording of the piece is available here.

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In order to perform The Island of the Sirens, you need a lead singer who sings this score, along with three instrumentalists or singers, who listen to individual headphone tracks and imitate what they’re hearing as well as they can. The piece is set up already in Ableton Live, and after you click the donation button below, I’ll send you all the materials you need to perform the piece using Ableton or the DAW of your choice.

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Pump Music

Pump Music is inspired by a series of hand pumps I encountered in campsites while traveling down the Mississippi River in 2009. I recorded this pump at a campsite called Wanagan’s Landing, which was the place we stayed after the very first day of paddling, on 1 August 2009. It’s maybe ten miles down from the headwaters of the Mississippi River, in northern Minnesota.

I was struck not only by the raucous noise of the pump, but also by the unearthly melody of the afterglow as the water recedes back into the earth when you stop pumping. The melody is not a simple overtone series as you might expect, but some curious phenomenon emerging from the length and diameter of the pipe that I don’t have enough physics to understand.

Pump Music was commissioned for the Guidonian Hand and Mary Rowell by Meet the Composer/Commissioning Music USA, and is dedicated to them with vast affection.

Pump Music is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear the premiere performance (at Roulette on 1 June 2012), please visit August 1st.

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

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get all the necessary materials to perform the piece.

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You can also read this blog post about 1 August 2009 of The River Project.

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Brownie Feet

Brownie Feet is a messed up mashup with several sources: Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, a NOLA standard by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the first movement of the Bach G minor Violin Sonata are the two necessary ones. If you like, you can perform the piece alongside my recording of a progressively more and more messed up James Brown Funky Drummer sample and George W. Bush’s 2 September 2005 press conference, but I’d prefer for you to work with a live drummer and/or sampler/laptop/turntable player so you can mess things up your own way.

The original version of this piece is called Cattle Feet, and it combines Feet Can’t Fail Me Now with a Phil Collins lick, and is performed on multiple trombones as a half-time number for David Neumann’s dance piece, Feed Forward. Bach and George Bush got enveloped into it for Peggy Gould’s From Within and Outside a Bright Room Called Day, where we did it as a vocal piece with live drums. And now here’s the score arranged for string quartet. You can welcome to perform The Flood as a companion piece to Brownie Feet or not, as you desire.

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Brownie Feet is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch Tom Emerson’s video for the piece along with a performance of the vocal quartet version by visiting September 3.

A studio recording of the BRIM + Guidonian Hand octet version of the piece is available on Songs from the River Project, Vol. 2.

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Here is a score of the string quartet version of the piece in pdf format. I’m open to you reorchestrating it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

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

On the Battlefield

On the Battlefield was inspired by the memory of a visit I made to the Vicksburg National Military Park during my journey down the Mississippi River in 2009.

The November afternoon I was there, I ended up in a miserable long-distance phone argument with my then-lover in Athens. The site of one of the iconic struggles of the war between the states felt entirely personal and intimate to me that afternoon.

Six years later, I spent an afternoon at that same battlefield with my friend and collaborator Matt Petty as he filmed the footage he used to make the video for On the Battlefield.

On the Battlefield is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to Matt’s trombone version by visiting 23 November.

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The piece can be performed by any brass or wind player. You can play back my spoken part or mute it to perform with a live actor, male or female. Whatever you play into Ableton Live will be transformed simultaneously into clusters and also a drone. I have not composed your music: you will want to respond to the text, the visuals, and the live processing. It’s possible you will want to be thinking of “taps” as you play, but you definitely won’t want to be corny about it.

In order for the Ableton session to work properly, you probably need the full version of Live. You will also need to download and install the free plugins you can find here.

You will want to switch the monitor buttons to IN on the first two tracks, called CLUSTERS and DRONE, and make sure your playing levels do not cover the spoken voice. The video is embedded in the Live session; in order for the video to display, you need to be in Arrangement view, not Session view.

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To purchase the Ableton session needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Farther from the Heart

Oh, I’m sad for never knowing courage,
And I’m sad for the stilling of fear.
Close to the sun now and farther from the heart.
I think that my end must be near.

I linger too long at a picnic
’cause a picnic’s gayer than me.
And I hold to the edge of the table
’cause the table’s stronger than me.
And I lean on anyone’s shoulder
Because anyone’s warmer than me.
Jane Bowles

I have been mulling over this 1942 poem by Jane Bowles since I first encountered it in 2000. I think the poem is unbearably sad: the embodiment of a specific kind of mid-20th-century female unhappiness. I do not live this life, but I am very conscious of having escaped it.

The song showed up unannounced one day while I was in residence at Ucross in the spring of 2016.

Farther from the Heart is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording by visiting 3 November.

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Here’s the vocal score at the transposition that works best for me. I am happy to supply you with a different transposition, just let me know what you need when you order the materials below.

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And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

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Creating the World

I wrote this note for the premiere of Creating the World in 1996:

I had cut Milosz’s poem “Creating the World” out of The New Yorker when it was printed there several years ago, and when Paul Dresher called to ask me for a piece for his ensemble, I knew the time had come for me to take it on. Because the instrumentation of Paul’s ensemble allows for the possibility of live performance and control of A LOT of pre-recorded samples, it seemed the perfect opportunity to create a world of hedgehogs and sopranos and urban intersections and Mozart.

At first, everything was big fun: I had a great time recording the text with the wonderful actor Roger Rees; I spent weeks collecting recordings of virtually every sound mentioned in the poem (including something like forty different settings of the word “gloria”); I got obsessed with Tosca (which became the soprano sample) and saw about four different performances of it (both live and on video: NYC is a great place for creating the world(!)); studied the complete works of Joni Mitchell from the point of view of guitar tuning (which ended up not being incorporated into the piece at all)…

And then the abyss hit me.

I realized I could not knit all these wonderful samples into a piece until I had a way of making sense of the central contradiction of the poem: that all the creation in the world does not necessarily make meaning. And it really threw me.

I went back and read Milosz again, not only the poems, but also The Captive Mind, his analysis of the totalitarian mind-set, and  A Year of the Hunter, his journal from 1987 (around the time he wrote “Creating the World”), and things got even worse: all the horrors of the twentieth century came crashing down on me. The abyss of meaninglessness became the abyss of actual evil. The image of the Soviet soldiers standing outside the city watching the Germans destroy Warsaw for them became real for me, became my history.

Gradually I went back to the poem itself, to its feeble invocation of feasts of love as protection against the abyss, and I remembered a lullaby that my Bangladeshi friend Babu (M. Faslur Rahman) had sung for me this summer, a very private form of love feast. And I started thinking about the Dionysian feasts of love that pervade every human culture, and I figured that the brittle present-directed pleasure of house music is the current American embodiment of that protection. And so you will hear these feasts of love, and I hope they will protect you as they protect me.

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Creating the World is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s recording by visiting December 31st.

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For the original version of Creating the World the drummer played the spoken word samples on drum set, and lots of other samples were performed on both MIDI keyboard and MIDI mallet controllers. I am happy to make versions for whatever controllers you have available, and some things can certainly be sequenced for practicality. The main live instruments you need are violin, bassoon (or bass clarinet), guitar, and probably two keyboards, although one might work.

Here is a score of the piece, and when you click the purchase button below, I will work with you to make a cool live version of the piece for your band! It’s more expensive than my other pieces, because I have to rejigger the samples and all that. If you think of it as a consulting fee rather than as a publishing fee, I hope it will feel reasonable. If you really want to play the piece, and you don’t have the money, get in touch and we’ll work something out.