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.

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


Machaut a Go-go

Machaut a Go-go adapts both the music and the lyrics of Machaut’s virelais “Moult sui de bonne heure nee” to the go-go style. Go-go is a jazzy offshoot of rap that fourished in Washington, D.C. a while ago. Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers were my main inspiration in adapting the style. Machaut a Go-go was written in 1991 for Kitty Brazelton and her nine-piece band, Dadadah. Kitty made the translation and adaptation of the Machaut lyrics, as well as helping immeasurably to shape the piece. Many thanks to her and the other members of Dadadah for their work and musicianship.

Machaut a Go-go can be performed with an introduction: a performance of the original virelais (for voice and harp or guitar) that is rudely interrupted by the drummer, who leads in the other musicians. Here is a scan of the original score to use if you want to do this introduction.

Machaut a Go-go is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a Dadadah’s recording by visiting May 7th.

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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!


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.