Solo Voice: Duets

Duets evolved from a series of experiments undertaken in the Keele Electronic Music Studio, partly in response to my encounter with Tim Souster, much of whose work involved both improvisation and live electronics. A prime source for the composition was the work with extended vocal techniques that I had done at UCSD, but the interpenetration of this with technology resulted directly from the invaluable tutelage I received from Tim and from Cliff Bradbury, the studio technician. 

I probably began working with the equipment in November or December 1977, once I was settled at Keele. By February 1978 I had begun to sketch out alternative configurations, and these formed themselves into the set of ideas that became Duets sometime in March. As the concert date (March 16) approached, I finalized the concepts and the various settings; I recall some very long hours in Moberly Hall, after the equipment had been moved from the studio, during which I had to recalibrate much of the work to function in the new environment. For similar reasons—and lack of time—the London performance that followed a week later was, I recall, much less successful. The actual notation of the score—that is, the written descriptions—probably followed the March performances. The score has been issued by Frog Peak, and a recording (four tracks) of the first performance is available on SoundCloud

I expected the two 1978 performances to be the only ones, given the transience of technology; but in 1988, when Chris Brown invited me for a residency at Mills College and asked what pieces of mine might be performed, I suggested Duets, along with Medley. I suggested the latter because Chris is such an amazing pianist; and I suggested the former because of the venerable Mills studios, which I thought might have the antiquated equipment needed. The latter turned out to be only partly correct; the other equipment, nearly identical with the first performance, was assembled by Chris in a series of marathon travels up and down California. I had originally expected to perform the piece myself, but it became evident that rehearsal time would be insufficient for that. As a result, I suggested that Ed Harkins be invited, so that I could manipulate the technology offstage. Ed did a wonderful job, in part by favoring the movements that relied most intensely on his own vocal techniques and avoiding those that relied on careful calibration of the technology. 

I doubt the piece could be performed with today’s equipment, which is not only too reliable but also too precise. But I might be surprised; certainly, in theory, one could design a digital interface that would successfully mimic the eccentricities of 1970s pitch followers and synthesizers. Whether that’s worth doing is very much an open question. 

Solo Voice: Medley

I was appointed a Fulbright Professor at the University of Keele for the year 1977-1978. Although I submitted a proper and, presumably, persuasive application, in retrospect the appointment probably came about primarily through the intervention of the late Peter Dickinson, then Professor of Music at Keele and the person who had managed to broker the professorship with the Fulbright Commission. We had met, I believe, at the Ives Festival-Conference in 1974, though it may be that Peter had stopped by Illinois during my years as a graduate student. In any case, Peter subsequently became a lifelong friend and was enormously helpful to me, especially in maintaining and expanding my presence in the UK.

It is certainly Peter who is solely responsible for Medley: he arranged for a commission from West Midlands Arts, brokered through from the Worfield Trust; he encouraged and critiqued the composition as it took shape; and he and his sister Meriel gave the first set of performances. Medley is only one of many reasons why I am deeply indebted to him. 

Aesthetically and historically, Medley is closely entangled with Madrigals: the second and third Madrigals were completed in December 1977; Medley was begun in early 1978. Medley was premiered in July; the first and fourth Madrigals were premiered in October. In both pieces I was unashamedly infatuated with what was not yet called a polystylistic postmodernism, one that relied especially on American popular idioms. Both pieces drew from my own experiences and preferences—from performances, recordings, and research that were deliberately highly disparate. Madrigals presented four of these in successive movements; in Medley I wanted the differences to be more directly juxtaposed and the sequence to depend on choices made by the performers.

The composing was done in stages. For the first performance (July 1978) I prepared a single, straight-through score from which Peter and Meriel performed. This closely resembled later versions, but there were some discrepancies. Then, in the autumn, I completed the remaining sections. I was still working out the final structure in October, and the hand-copied score was not complete until mid-1979. The first performance that used the final score was given by Sondra Stowe and Bennett Lerner on May 26, 1982.

In 1984, I approached Sylvia Smith (of Smith Publications) about issuing some of my music. She was interested, and Medley was the first work she distributed, with copies made available in the summer of 1985. However, in about 2003 I began to place my scores with Frog Peak. A decade later, I asked Sylvia whether I could reacquire the rights to Medley, and she graciously agreed. There then ensued a lengthy editorial process—which entailed re-contacting some of the performers who had done the piece—as I tried to rediscover and set right various small errors. It was not until 2023 that a truly definitive score was published by Frog Peak.

 

Music Theater

It’s pretty obvious what this bay in my metaphoric library will eventually contain. But there’s nothing substantive here yet. (Remember: . . . and that is poetry . . .) 

As a start, however, I’ve extracted from my CV a short list of compositions for music theater, broadly conceived to include works with movement, dance, lighting, etc.:

  • Untitled (1972; eight singers, two actors)
  • that it was built . . . (1967; ten percussionists, ten dancers)
  • ensemble (1974; untrained performers)
  • Wood/stone (1974; untrained performers)
  • InSignIam (1978; six dancers, six-channel fixed media)
  • The Legacy (1982–83; four singers, live electronics, actor, three actor-mimes)
  • Makers (1992; cello, flute, violin, percussion, clarinet)
  • Metamorphoses (2005; baritone, soprano, fixed media, projections)
  • Everlasting Voices (2012; clarinet, actor, fixed media)

Solo Instrument: Footnotes

Recordings

Solo Instrument: Footnotes

Texts

Solo Instrument: Footnotes

Lectures

Solo Instrument: Footnotes

History

Solo Instrument: Footnotes

Popular Music of WWI: Stories

Songs

Yeats