Apr. 5th, 2007 01:05 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
Since I began writing for voices (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms), I've found that I very much prefer to set unconventional texts. The idea of setting poetry has little appeal to me[1]; when left to my own devices, I've chosen:

- silly cat haiku
- spam
- a molotov cocktail recipe
- a list of names

For my current project for chorus, string quartet, and electric guitar (due in December, to be premiered in March!), I'll be setting an amalgam of excerpts from:

- Executive Order 9066
- Relocation instructions
- A Supreme Court decision
- A loyalty questionnaire
- Postcards and letters from interned Americans[2]

And it recently dawned on me that in part, I choose the texts I do because I'm not interested in expressing myself directly, but in expressing myself by expressing others[3]. This was made more clear to me during the Abbie Hoffman Estate incident. I feel now (though I'm not sure I consciously realized it then) that, as a composer, it's more powerful to speak through somebody else's words than your own, and having to use (however disguised) my own voice diminished the impact of Cocktail[4].

But setting somebody else's poetry is speaking through them, right? Somehow, I feel it isn't, and I can't exactly put my finger on why. I think it might be because when setting poetry, to a large extent I'm speaking as the poet, taking the poet's voice as my own (or vice versa), and so I'm basically still expressing myself.

Another issue might be that poetry is intended as art, art that I'm subsuming and substituting with another media, whereas the texts I find compelling to set are not intended as art, and so there isn't a weird sense of refraction and imposition in using somebody else's creations.

(1) Though I once had ideas for a couple of song cycles on E. E. Cummings and Jane Kenyon, but nothing ever really came of them.

(2) Though I actively try not to follow any role models in terms of musical material, development, and technique, I do follow Steve Reich's lead in terms of what kinds of texts to set.

(3) One of the pieces I'm proudest of is a setting of a love poem by E. E. Cummings; and I think I was able to do it because it was written to express [livejournal.com profile] dietrich and [livejournal.com profile] imlad.

(4) Certainly for me, anyway, since nobody got to hear the original version except the performers.
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
This past Friday, I received a letter from Johanna Lawrenson, Abbie Hoffman's widow, that I could not use the text from Steal This Book I had set for [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms's recital on March 4.

Let me stress that the temporal proximity ot the letter to the performance is not her fault. It took inordinately long to obtain information about who held the performance rights from the book's publisher, and in that time I had to present [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms with music to rehearse.

Nevertheless, the depth of irony in...

1) Having to ask for permission to set text from a book its author honestly wanted people to steal,

2) Being denied that permission in an effort to protect the legacy of one one of the most notorious and outspoken antiestablishment figures of the late '60s and early '70s, essentially

3) Refusing an artist the right to express himself fully

...is nigh overwhelming.

So I spent Saturday afternoon adapting the Wikipedia article on Molotov cocktails to fit the preexisting music. I feel that this diminishes the power of Cocktail greatly, as what attracted me to Hoffman's text was not only the juxtaposition of its clinical, neutral tone with the intense emotion underneath, but also speaking through a historical document. Even though the new words are not wholly mine, they are in my voice, and I feel that changes the tone of Cocktail to one more of petulance than of despair.

Interestingly, it only just occurred to me that Cocktail is as much about despair as it is impotent rage.
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
Is it possible for a nation or a people to lose its right to liberty and Democracy? If so, have we?



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