a murmur in the trees

A Murmur in the Trees is a half hour piece by Eve Beglarian for twenty-four double basses to play in a grove of trees. The title is inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson. The music was created by treating a piece of birch bark as a musical score, where the lines on the birch bark are notes that are read at the rate of one-third inch per minute, said to be the speed at which plant signals travel. The y-axis has been mapped to notes in the overtone series, so the basses are playing open strings and up to seven harmonics above each string, creating a palette of 32 possible pitches.

For the first fifteen minutes, the basses are spread out along the path as widely as possible. Wherever you stand in the path, you will hear some basses nearly, and some quite far away. You are welcome to move up and down the path, and where you choose to stand will change what you hear. There is no need to rush all the way to the end of the path. There is time to experience everything.

After fifteen minutes, the bass players will very gradually move up the path, and you, too, might want to find yourself at the upper end of the path by the end of that following ten minutes. Then, for the last five minutes of the piece, the basses will surround the audience in a circle (or maybe an oval, depending on how many of you there are), and the sound will radiate inward over all of us listening.

Development of A Murmur in the Trees was sponsored by a 2020 grant from the MAP Fund for Eve and Robert Black to do a project with visual artist Aviva Rahmani and choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, a project that took a different form due to COVID-19. Matt Sargent created computer algorithms to translate the birch bark and generate individual parts for the players. Ryan McMasters created the twenty-four audio guide tracks that serve as performance parts for the players. Special thanks also to Isaiah K. Webb, who, on a hike with Eve and Yoshiko last summer, gave Eve the piece of birch bark that became the score of A Murmur in the Trees.

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There is no score of the piece in standard notation. Performers listen to audio guide tracks that give them the information they need to play the piece. Parts range in difficulty so that even very beginning students and amateur community members can participate alongside professional musicians.

If you are interested in presenting A Murmur in the Trees in your community, please reach out to us here.

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Circumference

Circumference is a small piano etude written for my friend Ryan McMasters as I am beginning work on a larger piano piece about Emily Dickinson for Donald Berman. I was practicing the Major 7th exercises in Patterns for Jazz at the time. Each hand of this little etude is not difficult, but putting them together will keep you engaged for a while!

Emily Dickinson wrote to Thomas Higginson in 1862, “My Business is Circumference.”

Circumference is 26 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear a recording of the piece there.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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What would the Either be?

What would the Either be? is a piece for live violin, electronically transformed violin sounds, and optional video.

The piece is inspired by a late Emily Dickinson poem, which she wrote in 1883 as she was trying to make sense of the death of her young nephew, Gib.

The Spirit lasts—but in what mode—
Below, the Body speaks,
But as the Spirit furnishes—
Apart, it never talks—
The Music in the Violin
Does not emerge alone
But Arm in Arm with Touch,
yet Touch Alone—is not a Tune—
The Spirit lurks within the Flesh
Like Tides within the Sea
That make the Water live, estranged
What would the Either be?
Does that know—now—or does it cease—
That which to this is done,
Resuming at a mutual date
With every future one?
Instinct pursues the Adamant,
Exacting this Reply—
Adversity if it may be, or
Wild Prosperity,
The Rumor’s Gate was shut so tight
Before my Mind was sown,
Not even a Prognostic’s Push
Could make a Dent thereon—

Emily Dickinson turns the hard dualism of body versus spirit slippery and mysterious. In response, I recorded David Felberg’s col legno playing so you can’t really know what is live and what pre-recorded. The video, shot in the summer of 2020 on Otter Creek in Vermont, blurs the binary of land versus water with abundant grass billowing in the current.

This is the second of a series of pieces I am making responding to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, who became my queer role model in lockdown. What would the Either be? was commissioned for David Felberg by the Taos Chamber Music Group, and received its premiere on 19 June 2021.

What would the Either be? is 27 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear David Felberg’s pre-release recording of the piece there.

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Here’s a performing score for the piece.

For the pre-recorded track (with or without video), please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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a solemn shyness

A Solemn Shyness is a piece for piano and ambience inspired by a fragment of text Emily Dickinson wrote on the program for a concert she may or may not have attended in June 1873.

Of our deepest delights there is a solemn shyness

The appetite for silence is seldom an acquired taste

The music is an abstraction of the harmony of a phrase from the Adagio of Mendelssohn’s First Organ Sonata. There is also an embedded gesture towards the hook from a Kanye West song (“run away fast as you can”) because I think Emily and Kanye might possibly have something useful to say to one another.

A Solemn Shyness was commissioned by Bang on a Can with support from Oscar Gerardo for the pianist Lara Downes, and premiered online on 21 February 2021. You can experience her recording by visiting 27 June in A Book of Days.

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The score is notated as a continuous version of the piece, but the idea is that the performer will pause and make space between phrases whenever s/he feels the urge. The effect makes me think of how deer and other animals graze: constantly stopping to listen, to check out their surroundings. Playing the piece straight through takes about four minutes, but I can imagine a performance that takes twice that time, or perhaps even more. I have made an ambient soundtrack, which can be either audio only or audio-video, of a snowstorm at dusk on Inauguration Day 2021 in Brandon, VT. You can use this soundtrack, or you are welcome to make your own in a quiet outdoor place in the season and closer to the location where you will be playing the piece.

For my version of the pre-recorded track, I gradually add an Eb resonance/reverb to the soundscape. The idea is to do it subtly enough that only the most attentive will hear how the line between music and natural sound has been blurred. The effect is stronger on headphones, so it’s kind of hard to decide how far to go with it. I am happy to share my settings as a starting point.

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For performing materials, click the buy button below. The suggested price is $10, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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