The Garden of Cyrus

Some time in the early 1980’s, I happened upon an essay by the 17th century polymath Sir Thomas Browne called The Garden of Cyrus OR, The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered. It is a wacky and marvelous piece of work, and reading it kind of changed my life.

The essay both describes and embodies the idea of the “decussation”, the place where two opposed forces meet, releasing energy by embracing their opposition. Sir Thomas Browne is a simultaneously a mystic and a scientist, a medical doctor and a literary stylist. He talks about the quincunx pattern as it appears on beetle’s wings and in Plato’s cosmology and a bunch of stuff in between.

My electronic piece, The Garden of Cyrus, was the first big piece I wrote after I finished school. It embodies the decussation by being totally rigidly serial, with algorithmic structures defining every pitch and rhythmic event, but I simultaneously tried to make the processes organic and available to the listener, as classic minimalism does. My goal was to wrestle the crunchy techniques of old-school modernism into something I could use, something I could love.

This score is the last movement of electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus. It’s a four-part canon in twelve sections, where each player does faster and faster repeated notes in each section until finally s/he falls into sustained notes. The original version was electronic, but the excellent guitar quartet Dither recently asked me to make a four-guitar version, so that’s what I’m posting here. It could probably be adapted for string quartet as well; please get in touch with me if you’d be interested in performing a string quartet version.

The electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus with all five movements is available on my CD Overstepping.

The Garden of Cyrus V is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear and see Dither’s performance by going to July 22nd.
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Here is the original electronic version:

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. 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:


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 sè sovra sua unitate.
Dante, Paradiso II: 133-138

And as the soul within your mortal clay
is spread through different organs, each of which
is shaped to its own end; in the same way
the high angelic Intelligence spreads its goodness
diversified through all the many stars
while yet revolving ever in its Oneness.
John Ciardi’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. Also, Daniel Druckman’s 1985 recording of the piece 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 player 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.

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