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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Wolf Chaser

Wolf Chaser: for amplified and processed violin, wolf chaser, optional percussion, electronics, and optional video

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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:

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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.

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Waiting for Billy Floyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Until It Blazes

Until It Blazes is an amplified solo piece for piano, guitar or other plucked string instrument, harp, marimba, or vibes. The piece requires a stereo multi-tap digital delay for processing. You can also perform the piece using a MIDI keyboard or mallet controller. If you’re using a MIDI instrument, I can supply a Max patch that implements the delay as MIDI delay, if it’s easier to do that than to use an audio delay.

The piece’s duration is variable: I imagine it could work at any duration between six and twenty minutes. I have made a twelve minute version, but it is only one possible version of the piece: please don’t regard it as definitive.

The overall idea of the piece is to set up various repeating patterns and then gradually group the notes so that new melodies grow out of the accents. For example, when you are playing a three-note pattern, if you accent every fourth event, you will get one melody; if you accent every fifth event, you will get a different melody.

There are six patterns in Until It Blazes, each an outgrowth of the previous pattern. In each case, you will first want to establish the pattern very softly with no accents at all, and then very gradually begin to stress a grouping that creates a slower melody arcing across the pattern. This accenting happens gradually during a slow overall crescendo, reaches some high point, and then the accenting recedes as you diminuendo. The length of the piece will vary depending on how slowly you want the cross-melodies to build and recede. The most interesting place is where you can hear both the pattern and the melody that cuts across it.

Prior to beginning to play the piece, you can say the words: “I have cast fire upon the world, and watch, I am guarding it until it blazes.” This line is attributed to Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

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Cory Arcangel has created a video for the piece that can be played back in live performance. If you are interested in this aspect of the piece, please get in touch with me.

The stereo delay should be set up as follows: The left channel should have a delay time of 454 ms (equivalent to a dotted eighth at MM = 99) and should give three repeats. The right channel should have a delay time of 303 ms (equivalent to an eighth note delay at MM = 99) and have four repeats. The delay should be set to approximately 70% of the volume of the direct sound. The direct sound should come from the center of the stereo field.

Once you have reached the last pattern, you can begin to gradually bring in distortion or some other processing that gives the feeling of a watched fire beginning to blaze. Performers have handled this in a variety of ways, and I am open to all of them.

Until It Blazes is dedicated to Kathy Supové with love and thanks.

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There are three recordings of Until It Blazes currently available; all are performed on guitar. Here is Giacomo Fiori’s recording; here is Emanuele Forni’s; and here is Seth Josel’s. As you prepare to play the piece, you might also want to listen to my original keyboard version.

Until It Blazes is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to April 15th to watch Cory’s video and listen to an excellent live performance by Eric Mellencamp of the Robin Cox Ensemble on vibraphone.

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

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

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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.

Originally scored for soprano sax, clarinet, violin, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset, I am happy to adapt the piece for your forces. You can download the score and listen to a live performance:

And you can listen to the original mashup of Marvin and Machaut on 7 November in A Book of Days.

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FlamingO

FlamingO is a sixteen minute piece for three simultaneous bands: the first, on your left, is the wolf chaser band, named after the whirling Inuit instrument (given to me by Robin Lorentz) played by the percussionist of that band at the beginning and end of the piece. The wolf chaser has also been recorded and electronically transformed: slowed way down in speed without changing the pitch, and then ring-modulated and otherwise warped, to create a bed (played back on CD) for the whole piece. The remaining wolf chaser band members focus on arpeggiations which are all motivic outgrowths of the sound of the wolf chaser. (For another piece that works with this same source material, see Wolf Chaser.)

The flamingo band (center) similarly gets their music from a sampled source: they are playing with sampled flamingo honks (given to me by Stephen Erickson), and their take on the flamingo sounds tends to be homophonic.

In contrast to the arpeggiations and homophony of the other two bands, the “metalastic” band (right) plays canonically inflected music, taking as their primary starting point an unidentified bird sample (given to me by Marilyn Ries.)

Each band takes a solo, and when they are all playing together things are complicated in a way I find more fun than straight cacophony: you can still hear the characteristic musics of the three bands, and you can choose what to focus on, and depending on your choice, all the other stuff seems to support you.

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FlamingO was commissioned by Eric Grunin and the Crosstown Ensemble and premiered by them in 1995. It was revised in 2004 for a performance by the American Composers Orchestra. It was recorded in 2005, with the support of Frederick and Alexandra Peters, for my New World Records CD, Tell the Birds.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For performance materials, please contact me.

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

Push the Dust

Push the Dust was originally written as part of a big cello piece for Maya Beiser called I am writing to you from a far-off country. The text, by Belgian surrealist Henri Michaux, is written as a series of letters from a woman to an unnamed recipient.

We are more than ever surrounded by ants. They push the dust uneasily at top speed. They take no interest in us. Not one raises its head. This is the most tightly closed society that could exist, although outdoors they constantly spread out in all directions. It doesn’t matter, to realize their projects, their preoccupations… they are among themselves… everywhere. And until this moment, not one has raised its head towards us. It would rather be crushed.

The demo I made when I was composing the piece was for mallet percussion instead of cello, and I think it makes for a very cool percussion piece. I’ve posted that demo version as October 3rd in A Book of Days. It can be performed by six players on multiples of the same instrument, or as a solo piece for one player, who performs the text and one live percussion part, having pre-recorded the others. The piece can certainly be done on any mallet instrument like vibes or marimba, but you are also welcome to construct a homemade instrument, probably of pieces of metal, to record the playback tracks and perform the live line.

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Here is a score of the complete piece. If you would like to perform the piece, please click the donation button below, and I will send you the individual parts you need to perform it live or record the playback tracks.

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

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