Open Secrets

Open Secrets was a semester-long project in spring of 1999 at RPI sponsored by Chris Jaffe, in which architect Malcolm Holzman and I worked with teachers and students in architecture and intermedia on “an investigation of the relationships between acoustics, architecture, and music and an exploration of spaces, both secret and revealed, natural and mediated.”

The core idea was to play with visually and sonically encoded versions of a text from Hebrews: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

It was a crazily ambitious and fun project! There’s a 1999-era website devoted to documenting our work together. It could use some updating, but it’ll give you an idea.

A musical translation of the Morse code version of the text was played by Kathy Supové on toy piano in an anechoic chamber hidden beneath a ramp.

You had to be there.

That score was turned into a cool little music video by Duff Dufresne, and can be seen and heard in A Book of Days, on 18 November. If you’d like to play the piece, in or out of an anechoic chamber, please get in touch with me!

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Wolf Chaser

Wolf Chaser: for amplified and processed violin, wolf chaser, optional percussion, electronics, and optional video

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In the early summer of 1995, the violinist Robin Lorentz gave me a wolf chaser ― a tool made of whale baleen for scaring wolves in the Arctic. It had been a gift, in turn, from the man who made it, James Nageak. I sampled the wolf chaser and made a recording that slowed the sound down so far that you can HEAR the sampling rate as a rhythm (sort of the audio analog to the jaggies you see when displaying curves at low resolution on a computer.) That recording is the bed for this piece for acoustic wolf chaser, amplified and processed scordatura violin, and optional metallic percussion. In 2008, Vittoria Chierici (with editor Phil Hartley) made a video to accompany live performances of the piece.

Here’s the video with Robin Lorentz’s recording of the piece:

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Click here for the score of the piece, which includes all the information you need to know about playing it.

If you would like to play the piece, please order the materials below and let me know the following information:

  • whether you want to do the percussion part live (I haven’t yet implemented the percussion processing in Ableton’s Live, but can do it easily with a bit of notice.)
  • in which format you want the video (DVD or embedded in Ableton)
  • proposed dates of your performance(s), so we can figure out logistics for getting you the wolf chaser.

DETAILS

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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Light up Your face

Light up Your face began as a piece about the murder of Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963. Eudora Welty wrote a story the next night from the point of view of the murderer, who had not yet been identified. It has been hailed as an uncanny portrait of the killer, but it is wrong in one important respect. Byron De La Beckwith was not an impoverished nearly illiterate redneck, he was an upstanding middle class salesman and WWII veteran, who along with participating in the White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan, regularly attended the Episcopal Church in Greenwood, MS.

That last fact is the inspiration for the piece, which includes an excerpt from Eudora Welty’s story against my harmonization of the chant version of the refrain of Psalm 80: Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.

After three trials, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of first-degree murder in 1994.

The video for Light up Your face is a collaboration between Bradley Wester and Matt Petty. Bradley works with an image of Medgar Evers’ home in Jackson, Mississippi, and the carport where he was killed. Matt Petty’s contribution is a meditation on the murder of James Craig Anderson in Jackson in 2011, a murder committed by a group of white high school students from the neighboring town of Brandon. The students were convicted of their crime and are currently serving time in federal prison. The family of James Craig Anderson asked that the murderers be spared the death penalty.

Light up Your face is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to the piece by visiting June 12th.

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The original version of this piece is for actor, singer, and piano. You can download it here. The piano part can be replaced by chamber ensemble or chorus. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, let me know your needs. Please get in touch with me for more information about showing the video as part of your performance.

And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

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In and Out of the Game

In and Out of the Game (2007, rev 2010) began life as part of the score for a collaboration with choreographer David Neumann called FeedForward. In 2010, I made a video for the piece using footage I shot on my trip down the Mississippi River the previous fall. I made this new version of the piece for the trombone quartet, Guidonian Hand. It is dedicated to Paul, whom I met in Cape Girardeau on 15 October 2009. You can read about our meeting here.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments . . . . I witness and wait.

Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass

The piece can be performed by trombone quartet or sextet. You can download the score for both versions here.

In and Out of the Game is October 17th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. A recording of the Guidonian Hand’s performance is available on Songs from the River Project, Volume 2.

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If you would like to perform the piece, please click below, and I will provide you with the backing track and the optional video:

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Testy Pony

Testy Pony is a setting of the poem of the same name by Zachary Schomburg. I read the poem shortly before the first concert of my River Project and felt it embodied something about my trip down the Mississippi River.

Here is the text of the poem:

I am given a pony for my birthday, but it is the wrong kind of pony. It is the kind of pony that won’t listen. It is testy. When I ask it to go left, it goes right. When I ask it to run, it sleeps on its side in the tall grass. So when I ask it to jump us over the river into the field I have never before been, I have every reason to believe it will fail, that we will be swept down the river to our deaths. It is a fate for which I am prepared. The blame of our death will rest with the testy pony, and with that, I will be remembered with reverence, and the pony will be remembered with great anger. But with me on its back, the testy pony rears and approaches the river with unfettered bravery. Its leap is glorious. It clears the river with ease, not even getting its pony hooves wet. And then there we are on the other side of the river, the sun going down, the pony circling, looking for something to eat in the dirt. Real trust is to do so in the face of clear doubt, and to trust is to love. This is my failure, and for that I cannot be forgiven.

Testy Pony is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to October 12th to hear Hamilton Cheifetz’s recording of the piece. The recording is also available on Songs from the River Project Volume 2.

Matt Petty has made a video to accompany his performance of Testy Pony on trombone. You can hear and see his version here. If you are interested in projecting Matt’s video alongside your performance of the piece, please let me know.

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Here is a score of the piece. When you click on the donation button below, I will supply you with all the necessary performance materials.

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

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Dust

The music of Dust was originally part of a score written for the Axis Dance Company and choreographed by Victoria Marks. The excerpted version adds this text from Ezekiel.

So the Spirit lifts me up, and I hear behind me the sound of a great rushing, “blessed be the glory of the Lord in his dwelling place!”… the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against one another, and the sound of the wheels over-against them, the sound of a great rushing.

The Spirit has lifted me up, and takes me; and my heart, as I go, overflows with bitterness and heat, and the hand of the Lord is heavy upon me.

Dust is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording and see Matt Petty’s accompanying video of the Prophet Isaiah Robertson and his visionary artwork in Niagara Falls by visiting October 5th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. The piece can be performed by female or male alto, or by any instrumentalist whose instrument is right for the solo part. If you would like a version with a different transposition or clef, just let me know when you order the pre-recorded track.

You can also feel free to add percussion to a live performance of the piece. Bicycle wheels have been used as instruments for this purpose quite effectively.

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

DETAILS