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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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:

A Big Enough Umbrella

In A Big Enough Umbrella, the solo violist starts off trying to imitate the synth bass, fails at that, and gradually wraps herself in strings who can help her express herself more naturally. I wrote the piece in the midst of a certain amount of turmoil in my mid-20s. The original 1984 version has synth strings as the accompaniment; in 2013, I recorded Mary and Fran Rowell performing the string orchestra parts for a solo performance version with pre-recorded real strings. The piece has also been performed all-live by solo viola, string orchestra, and dueling synth bass players. The title comes from a line in a then-current pop song by the Police: “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” (Sting has reused the line in three different songs over the years: I guess he like likes it a lot, too.)

A Big Enough Umbrella was originally commissioned by and dedicated to the violist Lois Martin, supported by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

You can hear Michael Strauss playing A Big Enough Umbrella with the original pre-recorded synths at September 19th in A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

You can perform the piece with pre-recorded synth track (i.e. the original 1980s synth version); with pre-recorded acoustic track (i.e. with real strings on the backing track); or I can send string orchestra and synth keyboard parts for live performance. Please click the donation button below and let me know which version you would like:

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Landscaping for Privacy

Landscaping for Privacy was written in August-September 1995 for twisted tutu (Kathleen Supové, keyboards and Eve Beglarian, vocals) while we were in residence at the Bellagio Center in Italy under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. The poem is by Linda Norton. The keyboard part was written to be played using the arpeggiator function of a synth keyboard, sort of like a new convertible with an automatic transmission. I tried to capture the fragile elation urban types feel at driving out of the city on a beautiful Saturday morning in spring.

Landscaping for Privacy

Make a pagoda of thyself!
–Herman Melville

Ultima multis
–inscription on a medieval sundial

The hedges along the parkway, the trees, the trees–
They sashay, they nearly genuflect, they breathe.
It’s good to breathe; it’s good to get away in summer,
It makes you feel clean. The city, the squalor, the mess,
That’s what’s killing us. Did I tell you about the rat
I saw in the subway last night? It had a swollen belly
And no fear, it went right for a transvestite in heels!
Enough; I know; not here, not now; I should relax,
Shut up, let go. Oh, yes, Long Island’s very fresh and nice;
Do they have rats out here, or just field mice? And I forget,
What do people do with themselves in the suburbs?
The streets are empty, the lawns unused. If I lived here,
I’d spread out, I’d hang a hammock, I’d keep sheep,
I’d dig a well. I’d build hummocks to my own
Specs, I’d be positively pastoral.

But you’re right, of course. Of course, you’re right.
I couldn’t keep sheep, there’s probably an ordinance,
They’d shoot me for ruining property values.
But what’s property, anyway? Years ago
I read about a pillar of roses in an English garden
And so I own it, I have the deed by heart.
Speaking of which, pull over, look,
Here’s a surprise for you. Check out my bicep.
Do you like my new tattoo?

What do you mean, “What is it, did it hurt?”
It’s a miniature gazebo! Of course it hurt!
Note the incredible detail, the wicked craftsmanship.
See–it’s a garden pagoda for me and you,
With ivy, and grass, and a snake in the grass.
Hey, what are you doing? Oh yes, that’s good,
Yes, kiss it and make it better. Because
It did hurt a bit. In fact, it hurt like hell
(Remember that night when you touched me
And I yelled?)

OK, let’s drive, let’s tour the hydrangeas
And the lawns. What could be more suggestive
Than a grassy mattress? Maybe that TV glowing
In a darkened den, shades nearly drawn.
Slow down, slow down–that’s strange: a sick room,
A suburban tomb, on a day like this,
With the clouds all starched and bustling
In a Disney sky. Look, they have a gazebo, too,
Jam-packed with rusted rakes and trash.

If I had their lawn I’d soak it and sun bathe on it,
I’d sleep out under the stars, I’d walk to the mall
And strap a sack of fertilizer to my back and hike
All the way home. We’ve lived in the city far too long,
Yes, that’s what’s killing us. That, and this monument
To love we lug, this brick inscribed FOREVER.
Let’s let it sink. Let’s kiss. Give me the wheel,
I’ll drive so you can look at clouds.

“All clouds are clocks,” bulldozing time.
Do you remember who said that?
A pauper? A philosopher?
Well, he was right,
Those pretty clouds are bullies–

Bouffant armada,
Fluffy but cruel,
Ushering last days for many.
–Linda Norton

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There are three versions of the piece: the original version for narrator plus the PC88 keyboard’s arpeggiator; a version for narrator with acoustic piano and playback; and an ensemble version (voice, alto flute, bass clarinet, vibes, marimba, and piano.)

A recording of Landscaping for Privacy is on my CD Tell the Birds and also on the compilation CRI Emergency Music.

Landscaping for Privacy is May 30th in my ongoing project A Book of Days.
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score of piano (plus playback) version –> (.pdf)
score of all-acoustic ensemble version –> (.pdf)
score of original arpeggiator version –> (.pdf)

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

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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.

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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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.

DETAILS