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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Well-Spent

Well-Spent (2011) was written in response to a line in one of Leonardo’s notebooks that I came across soon after traveling down the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle in 2009.

L’acqua che tochi de fiumi, è l’ultima di quella che andò, e la prima di quelle che viene; così il tempo presente. La vita bene spesa lunga è.
Leonardo: Notebook 1174

The water you touch in a river
is the last that has passed
and the first that is coming;
so with the present moment.

The well-spent life is long.
(evb translation)

The pre-recorded track of Well-Spent is made from Mary Rowell’s recording of the Muddy Waters 1942 tune You Got to Take Sick and Die Some of These Days. Well-Spent was commissioned by Ron Blessinger and the Third Angle Ensemble in memory of Donna Drummond. Many thanks to the Montalvo Arts Center, where I made the piece.

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Here is a solo live performance by Mary Rowell:

It’s also possible to perform Well-Spent with two live violins along with the pre-recorded track. You can hear the duo version performed by Ron Blessinger and Mary Rowell by visiting April 19  in my ongoing project A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get a link to download the pre-recorded track. If you’d like an Ableton Live session for easy click playback, just let me know.

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Einhorn

Einhorn is inspired by a poem by Rilke that I had been thinking about working with for more than ten years. Love creates a space in which the impossible becomes real: how amazing is that?! Einhorn was commissioned by Lydia Van Dreel and is dedicated to her with vast affection.

O dieses ist das Tier, das es nicht gibt.
Sie wußtens nicht und habens jeden Falls
– sein Wandeln, seine Haltung, seinen Hals,
bis in des stillen Blickes Licht – geliebt.

Zwar war es nicht. Doch weil sie’s liebten, ward
ein reines Tier. Sie ließen immer Raum.
Und in der Raume, klar und ausgepart,
erhob es leicht sein haupt und brauchte kaum

zu sein. Sie nührten es mit keinem Korn,
nur immer mit der Möglichkeit, es sei.
Und die gab solche Stärke an das Tier,

daß es aus sich ein Stirnhorn tried. Ein Horn.
Zu einer Jungfrau kam es weiß herbei –
und war im Silber-Spiegel und in ihr.
Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus II:4

Oh this beast is the one that never was.
They didn’t know that; unconcerned, they had
loved its grace, its walk, and how it stood
looking at them calmly, with clear eyes.

It hadn’t BEEN. But from their love, a pure
beast arose. They always left it room.
And in that heart-space, radiant and bare,
it raised its head and hardly needed to

exist. They fed it, not with any grain,
but always just with the thought that it might be.
And this assurance gave the beast so much power,

it grew a horn upon its brow. One horn.
Afterward it approached a virgin, whitely —
and was, inside the mirror and in her.
translated by Stephen Mitchell

When I was first thinking about the poem in the summer of 1997, I asked my friend Hunter Ochs to record the German and I recorded the English translation.

Hunter’s German reading:

Eve’s English reading:

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Here’s a score of the piece in pdf format.

The premiere recording of the piece is on Lydia’s 2014 CD New Millennium Music for Horn.

Einhorn is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Lydia’s recording by visiting September 29th.

If you would like to perform Einhorn, please follow the paypal link below and we will send you all the performance materials.

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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.

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Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. You can hear Matt Petty and me doing a wacky all-harpsichord version by going to February 7th. And you can purchase a wind and brass heavy version here.

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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 pdf called 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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You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase, we will send you a Finale 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 hear a live performance from the New Music on the Point festival 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 donation 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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