Spherical Music

Spherical Music was written in 1985 as part of an electronic piece called The Garden of Cyrus. (A recording of that piece is available on my CD Overstepping.) At the time, I made a version for twelve marimbas which Daniel Druckman recorded and performed with eleven parts on tape. In 1998, Danny called and asked me to make a version for twelve players on six marimbas. I made substantial revisions in the orchestration for this version, and I think it’s beginning to approach what I was hoping for it to be in the first place: an algorithmic music where the rule-based events feel like more than mere arithmetic, where they become a kind of magic numerology.

There’s a quotation from the Divine Comedy that embodies what I was aiming for when I wrote the piece:

E come l’alma dentro a vostra polve
per differenti membra e conformate
a diverse potenze si resolve,

così l’intelligenza sua bontate
mulitiplicata per le stelle spiega,
girando sé sovra sua unitate.
Dante, Paradiso II: 133-138

And as the soul within your dust is shared
by different organs, each most suited to
a different potency, so does that Mind

unfold and multiply its bounty through
the varied heavens, though that Intellect
itself revolves upon its unity.

Mandelbaum’s translation

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In addition to the original electronic version available on Overstepping, Jane Boxall’s solo marimba version of the piece is available here. Al Cerulo’s multiple instrument arrangement and recording is posted as part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to it by visiting March 3rd.

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Here’s the score of the 1998 twelve players on six marimbas version. When you purchase the materials through Paypal below, you will receive all the materials necessary to perform the piece.

If you want to do a solo version, you will first want to record all twelve parts and then mute the parts you want to play live. Here’s one possible solo version of the piece. However, once you’ve spent the time recording all twelve parts yourself, you are likely to have your own favorite path through the piece, so I encourage you to make your own solo performance version. If you want the score in Finale, XML, or MIDI format to make editing your own version easier, please request it when you order the materials.

Normally, we charge $35 for the performing materials, but in these pandemic days, I’ve set the price to pay as you like. You are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

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Michael’s Spoon

The inspiration for Michael’s Spoon was this text from the end of J.M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel The Life and Times of Michael K.

And if the old man climbed out of the cart and stretched himself (things were gathering pace now) and looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained, saying, “What are we going to do about water?,” he, Michael K, would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.
J. M. Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K

Michael’s Spoon was originally written as an all-electronic piece which is the second movement of the five-movement piece The Garden of Cyrus. That piece was released on my 1998 CD, Overstepping.

Michael’s Spoon is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the electronic version and watch Mechele Manno’s video by visiting February 9th.

The chamber ensemble version of Michael’s Spoon was originally made in 2004 for performances by the Robin Cox Ensemble. You can download a score of that version here. You are welcome to substitute instruments as desired for your ensemble. Alternatively, the piece can be performed by a solo player on the cello part (or shared by low brass), with all the other parts pre-recorded. Here’s a performing score of the two-trombone version. In addition, there’s now a 2018 quartet version for trombone, piano, and one or two percussionists (on glock and vibes.) When you order the performance materials, let me know what version you’re interested in. I can also supply the score in xml format so you can make your own arrangement. Thanks for your interest in Michael’s Spoon!

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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.

Performance materials for the piece normally cost $50, but for the duration of the pandemic, you are welcome to name your own price. 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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13one

13one was written for the trombonist Will Lang. He asked for a thirteen-note piece that could be played solo or in conjunction with other thirteen-note pieces. I decided to make my piece an homage to John Cage on his 100th birthday.

You are welcome to play the version I cast for Will for the premiere, which is in the downloadable score you will find below. Each of the thirteen notes should be played for the duration of one breath at a generally quiet dynamic. The thirteen notes do not need to be played evenly: let your breath determine the duration of each note. Also, if a particular hexagram speaks to your condition, feel free to milk it.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE YOUR OWN VERSION OF 13one:

Cast the I Ching using whatever method you prefer. (There is of course an app for this.) Use the chart you will find in the score to translate each resulting hexagram into a note. If the hexagram you cast has changing lines, the next note should be the one associated with the hexagram that results when you change the lines. If your cast for the thirteenth note gives you a hexagram with changing lines, you can

  1. sing the note of the original hexagram while playing the note of the changed version (or vice versa)
  2. vividly imagine the changed version’s note after you finish playing the thirteen written notes
  3. sing the note to yourself at some later time
  4. use it as the first note of your next performance of the piece
  5. invent your own use for the extra note

If you wish, you can play the piece into a very long delay a la Brian Eno. Set the delay to be longer than the duration of any individual note you are likely to play. Depending on the regen you set, the delay can end up keeping all thirteen notes in play, with a fadeout to nothingness as the delays gradually dissipate. A standard delay pedal is not likely to be long enough for this purpose: you will probably need a computer. I have made a Max for Live patch that implements a long delay (up to 13 seconds), which I am happy to send you when you order the performance materials.

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13one is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Matthew Petty’s live performance with the long delay by visiting September 5th.

For a score of the piece, pay what you like at the link below. You are welcome to adapt the piece to any breath-controlled instrument, including voice. And thank you for your support of this very low-key way of publishing:

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Fireside

Fireside was commissioned in 2001 by pianist Sarah Cahill in celebration of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s centennial. The piece sets a poem Ruth Crawford wrote when she was thirteen years old. The harmony is a response to her fifth prelude. Fireside is dedicated to women composers of the future, who will undoubtedly be making devil’s bargains of their own.

Here is the text of Ruth Crawford’s poem.

Fireside Fancies

When I sit by the side of the blazing fire
On a cold December night,
And gaze at the leaping and rollicking flames
As they cast their flickering light

I see what I would be in future years,
If my wishes and hopes came true,
And the flames form pictures of things that I dream,
Of the deeds that I hope to do.

One tall yellow flame darts above all the rest,
And I see myself famed and renowned,
A poetess I, and a novelist too,
Who is honored the whole world around.

That flame then grows dim, which to me seems to say,
That my first hope must soon die away,
Then another one darts on a great opera stage,
The most exquisite music I play.

And then, after many flames rise, and die down,
The first burns even and slow,
And I see myself singing to children my own,
On the porch of a small bungalow.

Oh, I dream, and I dream, until slowly the fire
Burns lower, grows smaller, less bright,
Till the last tiny spark has completely gone out,
And my dreams are wrapt up in the night.
Ruth Crawford, age 13

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Fireside is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 30th to hear the recording the young pianist and composer Vera Weber made in February of 2018.

For a score of the piece, please click the Paypal button below. For the duration of the pandemic, I have made the price pay as you like. Thank you for supporting 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. To purchase a copy of the piece, please click the button below. Here is a draft copy of a score which lays out all the conceptual parts. It can be orchestrated to your specifications, so far it’s been done by a chamber chorus with piano, and by a vocal soloist with instrumental ensemble.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing. I’ve set the price to be pay-as-you-like for the duration of the pandemic:

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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. I’m open to you adapting it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

I will send you all the necessary performance materials when you order the piece by clicking the paypal button below, with thanks for supporting this low-key method of publishing.

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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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Normally the performance materials for this piece are $25, but during the pandemic, I’ve set the price to be pay-as-you-can. 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. It was the first piece I wrote after the events of early September of that year. 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 recording by Margaret Lancaster and Erin Rogers on flute and bari sax, respectively, with me doing the text, and to see Judson Wright’s very cool video animation for the piece.

There are performing scores in various different transpositions and clefs, please specify what you need. In addition, we can share the animation for real-time projection if you like.

Thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing by clicking on the paypal button below. Normally we charge $25 for the materials, but in pandemic days, the piece is pay-as-you-can.

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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 a rocking performance by the young Australian group Concept Ensemble 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 arranging 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 Lucy Dhegrae’s recording of the piece. The piece is also one in a series called ReThinking Mary.
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All U Got 2 Do

All U Got 2 Do was inspired by a sermonette by Reverend Milton Brunson which appears on a 1990 release called Black Gospel Explosion.

all you got to do is
stand still
study yourself
be real

and god’ll give you the power
won’t he do it?
somebody know what I’m talking about?
won’t he give you
power?

power to live right
power to think right
power to speak right
power to do right

god’ll give you
power
Reverend Milton Brunson

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Along with the Brunson text, the piece uses a transformed recording of the introduction to the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. The live player tries to follow the Reverend’s advice by playing as few notes with as much attention as possible. The piece was originally written for Hammond organ, but it has been played on violin and on clarinet. Other instruments might work as well, I’m open to you trying it. The score is minimally notated: you will want to shape the expression of the piece in your own way. The best performances will create a fragile balance between immobility and hope.

All U Got 2 Do is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear David Steele’s clarinet version at 3 August, along with the video by Matt Petty, which is part of the multimedia show, Lighten Up.

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Here is a performing score 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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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 Corey Dargel and Margaret Lancaster 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. The price is normally $50, but in pandemic days it’s pay-as-you-can.

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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.

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, in solo and in duo versions. Please order performing materials by clicking the donation link below (and let me know which instrument(s) you’ll be using to play the piece.)

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Osculati Fourniture

The title Osculati Fourniture comes from a mysterious query in a journal entry written by my mother, Joyce Heeney Beglarian, on 22 May 1981, while en route to Florence from Pisa. I cannot know why these two words came into her mind while riding along the autostrada, or what connection the phrase might have with shutters or Lucca, but it seems likely that the whole business has some obscure significance.

The music is a response to the gushe Zirkesh-e Salmak in the dastgah of Shur, part of the repertoire of Persian classical music. Its relation to all this is perhaps osculate in some sense.

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Osculati Fourniture is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can watch a dance choreographed by Megan Williams to Andy Kozar’s performance on trumpet by going to January 24th.  In addition, there is a cool video of a performance featuring Kevork Mourad’s live drawings. The piece is dedicated with love to Yvan Greenberg, who I imagine might enjoy this little cabinet of oddities.

[and by the way, my shutter photo was taken in Pescia, not Lucca — but you get the idea…]

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Here is a score of the piece with various transpositions you might want.

When you click the paypal button below, we will send you the pre-recorded tracks needed to perform the piece. We can also supply you with a performing score in any transposition or clef you’d like. the piece normally sells for $30, but it is currently name-your-price until public performances are again possible.

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Night Psalm

Night Psalm was inspired by Psalm 77, particularly verse 20:

Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

The melody of the piece is based on a chant found in a late sixteenth century antiphoner from Augsberg Cathedral in Germany. It is not known why this book would have been made so late, given the liturgical politics involved.

Night Psalm is dedicated to Paul Kahn on the occasion of his becoming a deacon. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear Vicky Chow’s live recording (accompanied by a video I made off the back of a towboat on the Mississippi) by visiting March 10. And you can see an excerpt of me performing the piece on a Launchpad here.

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Normally, the score is priced at $25.00, but until public performances are again possible, I have set it to pay-as-you-like. And thanks for your support of this low-key way of publishing:

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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 or XML 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 vocal score is the simplest arrangement. You can look at the Newspeak arrangement to see one approach to arranging the piece for larger forces.

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Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. Please visit February 7th to hear a live performance by Roomful of Teeth.

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You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase (currently donation-based for as long as the pandemic lasts), we will send you a PDF as well as a Finale/xml 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 see a live performance by loadbang 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 payment 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 re-orchestrating 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:

The Continuous Life

The Continuous Life (2000) was commissioned as part of a project called Continental Harmony to celebrate the turn of the millennium. Written for the Houston-based Orchestra X, the piece was supposed to celebrate Houston and incorporate electronics and interactivity.

I chose to set a poem by Mark Strand that is about the opposite of celebrating a particular moment in time:

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? Oh parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

The original orchestration is spoken word, full orchestra, and a sound mix of recordings of daily life in Houston. At the end, multiple live acoustic guitar players are invited to join in, playing from their places in the audience.

The piece can also be done by sixteen electric guitars plus pre-recorded sound. That version can be heard at September 2nd in my ongoing project, A Book of Days.

A year ago, the New York ensemble Contemporaneous performed a new version of the piece for eight players and pre-recorded sound. If you are interested in performing the piece with an ensemble of at least eight people, please get in touch with me and we’ll figure out how to make that happen.

In the meantime, you can visit the very first webpages I ever made, (with lots of help from Cory Arcangel), where I put lots of stories and examples about how I made the piece. I’ve left the pages pretty much how they appeared in 2000, so you can revel in the millennial flavor ;-).

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