From the Same Melancholy Fate

From the Same Melancholy Fate (2015) is an improvisatory piece for any instrumentalist, inspired by visionary artist Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man. Pete Gershon, author of Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments, introduces the Flower Man’s story this way: “after seventeen years as a homeless alcoholic, he had a near-death experience in the gutter in 1983. Then, a divinely inspired vision of a whirlwind of colorful junk prompted him to devote the rest of his life to brightening his neighborhood and the lives of countless visitors with the deft arrangement of colorful refuse.” The Flower Man worked on his whirlwind constantly, roaming the neighborhood to forage for abandoned treasures to add to his ever-evolving yard show. But immediately after the Flower Man’s final illness and death (in December 2013), the house and its array of urban detritus began to decay. On 7 February 2015, the city demolished the structure, and it is now a vacant lot. Matt Petty’s video documents that day.

The player is given a pre-recorded track which has as its base my reading of Louise Glück’s poem recorded and re-recorded in space so that it is engulfed by room resonance (a la Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room), along with additional layers of music and song. The performer records every performance of the piece, and each performance recording becomes the pre-recorded track for the next performance. Thus the original track gradually disappears into the new layers, the performer responds to his/her previous self as part of the counterpoint of sound, and every performer’s tape part is unique, a palimpsest of previous performances of the piece.

The title of the piece comes from a gravestone Matt Petty showed me the day after I met him for the first time. In the white people’s cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the gravestone says in its entirety: “Negro, From the Same Melancholy Fate.”

Not I, you idiot, not self, but we, we—waves
of sky blue like
a critique of heaven: why
do you treasure your voice
when to be one thing
is to be next to nothing?
Why do you look up? To hear
an echo like the voice
of god? You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives: you go
where you are sent, like all things,
where the wind plants you,
one or another of you forever
looking down and seeing some image
of water, and hearing what? Waves,
and over waves, birds singing.

—Louise Glück: Scilla: from Wild Iris

In addition to being part of Lighten Up, a multimedia project about visionary visual arts, the piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit 19 January to watch and listen to Alison Bjorkedal’s third pass on the harp. You can go here to hear David Steele’s second pass on the clarinet, and here to hear Timothy Rosenberg’s second pass on the saxophone.

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To perform From the Same Melancholy Fate, you’ll start with the original pre-recorded track (with the optional video.) You’ll record your performance of the piece each time you play it, and use that performance recording as the pre-recorded track for your next performance. Gradually, the original track will be obscured under the layers of your successive performances.

I’d love for you to send me performance recordings periodically so I can hear where your version of the piece is going. My idea is to gather a bunch of different versions after some time has passed, and figure out some interesting way to present them as a group.

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Please use the PayPal button to purchase the materials. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

Where Your Treasure Is: Mistake

Mistake is one of a series of pieces called Where Your Treasure Is, about the slow disintegration of a painting I inherited. The painting is of an Irish dolmen, a burial mound, and I have placed it on a glacial erratic on my land in Vermont, where I am documenting its gradual decay into the landscape.

The text that inspires the piece is from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.

The piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit March 21st to listen to the piece, with a video by Emma Courtney.

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Here is a score of the piece, which requires four keyboard players on three pianos (or electronic keyboards.) In addition, there is a drumset part, which can be improvised by a live player, or done as a pre-recorded track.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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. If you wish to play the piece on a single synth rather than a two-manual organ, you can map the swell notes (marked p in the score) to trigger as they sound in the score, but played two octaves below where they are written, and then map the bomb notes (marked f in the score) to go from middle C up, just as they appear in the score. Please get in touch if you would like clarification of any of this!

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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, and here’s a set of parts. I’m open to you adapting it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind. If you wish to use the original DX7 patch, download this zip file of the patch in various formats that may be useful for re-creating the patch.

I will send you the pre-recorded track when you order the piece by clicking the paypal button below.

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Five Things

Five Things was written on 23 October 2001. 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 live recording by the Robin Cox Ensemble on clarinet, cello, and woodblock, with me doing the text.

Judson Wright has made an animation that can be projected in performances of the piece. Contact me for more details.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I can supply you with different transpositions and clefs, as needed.

If you are going to perform the piece in public, I would really appreciate you supporting this low-key way of publishing by purchasing the performance materials, by clicking on the paypal button below:

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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 our 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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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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Here is a score of the piece. If you are paid to perform it in public, I would deeply appreciate you paying for the score:

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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 reorchestrating 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:

On the Battlefield

On the Battlefield was inspired by the memory of a visit I made to the Vicksburg National Military Park during my journey down the Mississippi River in 2009.

The November afternoon I was there, I ended up in a miserable long-distance phone argument with my then-lover in Athens. The site of one of the iconic struggles of the war between the states felt entirely personal and intimate to me that afternoon.

Six years later, I spent an afternoon at that same battlefield with my friend and collaborator Matt Petty as he filmed the footage he used to make the video for On the Battlefield.

On the Battlefield is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to Matt’s trombone version by visiting 23 November.

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The piece can be performed by any brass or wind player. You can play back my spoken part or mute it to perform with a live actor, male or female. Whatever you play into Ableton Live will be transformed simultaneously into clusters and also a drone. I have not composed your music: you will want to respond to the text, the visuals, and the live processing. It’s possible you will want to be thinking of “taps” as you play, but you definitely won’t want to be corny about it.

In order for the Ableton session to work properly, you probably need the full version of Live. You will also need to download and install the free plugins you can find here.

You will want to switch the monitor buttons to IN on the first two tracks, called CLUSTERS and DRONE, and make sure your playing levels do not cover the spoken voice. The video is embedded in the Live session; in order for the video to display, you need to be in Arrangement view, not Session view.

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To purchase the Ableton session needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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What Justice Looks Like

What Justice Looks Like was written for Payton MacDonald to perform at South Pass City as part of his Sonic Divide project. Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902) served as Justice of the Peace there in 1870, during the Gold Rush, right after women were given the vote in Wyoming Territory. After her term was over, she had her husband arrested for assault and battery. She eventually left both him and South Pass City, becoming an activist for women’s rights nationally.

What Justice Looks Like is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording by visiting Valentine’s Day, which is the day when Esther was sworn in as Justice of the Peace.

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Here’s the vocal score at the transposition that works best for me. I am happy to supply you with a different transposition, just let me know what you need when you click the donation button below.

I think you want to think of this piece as an intimate invocation to Esther. You’ll want to find the transposition that lets both the lowest and the highest notes of the (rangy) vocal line be vulnerable and loving. You are welcome to do the piece slower (or faster) than the marked tempo if you like, and you don’t need to stick too precisely to the notated rhythms as long as the phrases stay coherent.

You can do it as a solo vocal piece, or you can invent a rhythmic accompaniment that helps you express the piece, adding extra bars of rest between verses for improvisational flourishes as you prefer. If you like a drone, feel free to use one. For the demo, I used Henry Lowengard’s excellent iPhone app, Srutibox, in just intonation mode. And I added a couple of totally optional samples from “Suffragette City”, which I’ll send you if you want them.

And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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