chamber music

Ukiyo, floating world

for violin, shamisen, voice, bass koto, percussion, piano & & video projection [28′].

X Ukiyo, floating world

for violin, shamisen, voice, bass koto, percussion, piano & & video projection [28′].

Funding: The Canada Council for the Arts

Premiere: Thin Edge New Music Collective & Urbanvessel.  Ongaku Festival, September 22, 2019 at 918 Bathurst, Toronto

Ukiyo, floating world is a poetic contemplation of the detritus of our disposable economy, inspired by improvisations with marine plastic pollution in Japan.

“Ukiyo” or “The Floating World” was the name given to the pleasure quarters of 17th century Edo, Kyoto and Osaka. For over 250 years, beautiful volumes of woodblock prints celebrated this world. “Ukiyo can also mean “sad troublesome world.” Wading knee deep in the plastic trash of our contemporary “floating world”, sadness is hard to resist. But “Ukiyo” can also mean “going with the flow”, sparking the transformation from a perception of abandonment to one of beauty. Playing the ocean’s garbage, we were enthralled: from the sonic boom of plastic fishing floats, the screech of styrofoam buoys, and the rippling ridges of packing crates, to the rattle of gaudy plastic cigarette lighters and the resonance of hollow pipes.

Ukiyo, floating world creates a dialogue between live musicians and video footage of this new “floating world”. Many thanks to Thin Edge New Music Collective for joining us as we enter unknown waters. 

Credits:
Composer & Artistic Director, Urbanvessel: Juliet Palmer
Designer: Sonja Rainey
Video Editing & Projections: Sonja Rainey
Videography: Sonja Rainey & Juliet Palmer
Violin: Ilana Waniuk
Shamisen & Voice: Aki Takahashi
Bass Koto: Miyama McQueen-Tokita
Percussion: Germaine Liu
Piano: Cheryl Duvall
Cultural consultant: Yo Utano

small excesses

vn & pno [11′] 2019.

X small excesses

vn & pno [11′] 2019.

Commissioner: Sara Watkins

Funder: The Toronto Arts Council

Recording: 11 Frames  (Rattle Records D093 2019) with Sara Watkins piano & Andrew Beer violin

Program note:

small excesses is the name of the I Ching hexagram no. 62: “flying birds leave behind their sound.”

The composition was initially inspired by Catalonian photographer Xavi Bou’s images of birds in flight. Bou’s innovative technique, “chronophotography”, combines sequential photographs of birds’ flight paths, revealing dramatic drawings in the sky. Hundreds of moments of incrementally changing gestures result in a curving sweep across space. In composing this duo I was intrigued by the gestures that a violinist and pianist make to draw sound from their instruments. How does sound take flight? I kept coming back to the title and wondering, what is excessive? What is small? How do those two seemingly contradictory thoughts go together? Am I going too far, or not far enough? And finally, I returned to my childhood, drifting off to sleep as I listened to my father, a fighter pilot, roaring overhead in flight training drills — raucous sound scrawling across the night sky.

Piano Action

imaginary composition of indeterminate duration, 2020.

X Piano Action

imaginary composition of indeterminate duration, 2020.

Commission: Decolonial Imaginings series produced by of-the-now with the Vancouver Foundation and the Canadian Music Centre BC region, October 2020

Excerpt:

“Come with me to the edge of the tracks, through the rotting wood and rusting metal of the train turntable, where under the Manitoba maples and aspens grow deadly nightshade and goldenrod, mulberry, Queen Anne’s lace and wild rose. The fence has been knocked down in places and what’s left of the freight yard buried in trash. In the middle of the night, people pull up at the bottom of the Rona car park, dumping whatever it is they want to forget: a red glove, McDonald’s wrappers, a red Tim Horton’s coffee cup, yellow plastic strapping from shipping pallets, a Harvie’s Canadian coffee cup, dog poop in a knotted black plastic bag, white styrofoam cups, empty antifreeze jugs, window cleaner bottles, and plastic bags.

Walk a little further, past a shopping cart with a squirrel perched on top, to the old transfer table. Sit down and rest on one of the plywood bar stools, discards from someone’s kitchen island. There’s an old toilet in the long grass, a white sneaker without laces, blue surgical masks (used once), and plastic bottles — Pepsi, Gatorade, Naya, Polish Spring.

On the other side of the train tracks once stood the Heintzman piano factory. Now a non-descript brick, concrete and glass condo looms over rows of Victorian brick terraces and a Tibetan Buddhist temple. In 1890 they made 1,000 pianos each year, sending them by rail to Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Winnipeg, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Banff, Kamloops, and Vancouver.

Twenty years later the factory was still busy, wood hanging to dry in the central courtyard and workers arriving every morning to build pianos. William Fell was one of those workers — a piano action finisher. He’d connect everything together like a see-saw so that the hammers hit the strings in just the right place, so the keys felt not too heavy and not too light, and the pedals muffled the strings or allowed them to ring on and on… William lived with his wife Inazetta in the same house I now live in. The last trace of William that I find is a military record: “Previously reported Wounded and Missing, now for official purposes presumed to have died in the vicinity of Avion on or since July 23rd 1917.”

piano action finish

finish piano action

This introduction is nearly finished.” 

Tufa

guitar quartet [15’] 1995.

X Tufa

guitar quartet [15’] 1995.

Premiere: Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Taplin Auditorium, Princeton, USA, May 3, 1995.

Program note:

a porous or
vesicular
carbonate of
lime…
deposited near the sources
and along the courses
of calcareous
springs.

Bout

bcl/bsax, egtr, pf, perc, vn, db [9′] 2010.

X Bout

bcl/bsax, egtr, pf, perc, vn, db [9′] 2010.


Commissioner: CONTACT Contemporary Music & The Six Team League Project.
Funder: Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: CONTACT, ECM/Bradyworks, St. Crispin’s Ensemble, Motion Ensemble, Negative Zed, Toronto, Montréal, Edmonton, Fredericton, Vancouver, May 15, 2010.
Program note:

Bout is inspired by the sport of women’s boxing. In an interview with Canadian boxing pioneer Savoy “Kapow” Howe, I was struck by her detailed demonstration of the inner monologue of a fighter. Melodic and rhythmic material from her words insinuate themselves into the piece, along with referee’s whistles, counts and bells, training routines and the dogged persistence of the fighter.

Bout: A round at fighting; a contest, match, trial of strength, physical or intellectual.

Five

vocalizing piano duo and percussion [7-8’] 2008.

X Five

vocalizing piano duo and percussion [7-8’] 2008.

Commissioner: Toca Loca
Premiere: Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, March 25, 2008.
Program note:

Five leaps into the vexing world of Alanis Morrissette and the never-ending list of opposites found in her song Hand in My Pocket. Why choose this song? I heard it when I first came to Canada in 1996 which gives it a sentimental gloss, but I’m also intrigued by songs that we remember in spite of ourselves. How does that work exactly? I also couldn’t but help think of the invincible pianist and cyclist Gregory Oh when Alanis sings “I’m short but I’m healthy, I’m high but I’m grounded”. Finally, I guess I really do hope that “everything’s going be fine, fine, fine”.

Mother Hubbard: f—mix

cl, perc, pf, vn, va, db [16′] 2004.

X Mother Hubbard: f—mix

cl, perc, pf, vn, va, db [16′] 2004.

Commissioner: Arraymusic
Funders: The Laidlaw Foundation and Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: FontanaMIX Ensemble with conductor Giorgio Magnanensi, Angelica Festival, Teatro San Leonardo, Bologna, Italy, May 23, 2004.
Program note:

The march is connected with both military and alternative political gatherings. Trying to understand the form, I’ve been listening to Purcell’s Queen’s Funeral March, the conga playing of Québec Summit protestors and the strangely military snap of Old Mother Hubbard (performed by the US Air Force Band). Revisiting this nursery rhyme, I was struck by the revolutionary aspirations of the last verse:

The dame made a curtsey, 

The dog made a bow;

The dame said, “Your servant,” 

The dog said, “Bow, wow.”

In bringing together disparate sources of inspiration, I wanted to retain a sense of their independent directions. With the intensification of policing at protests, a march may become a labyrinth with groups encountering barricades and teargas, circling back and morphing into a many-headed creature whose aspirations are diverse and sometimes divergent. The reporting of such events is frequently rife with omissions and silences.

Mother Hubbard

cl, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db & CD [16′] 2002.

X Mother Hubbard

cl, tpt, perc, pf, vn, db & CD [16′] 2002.

Commissioner: Arraymusic
Funders: The Laidlaw Foundation and Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: Arraymusic, Toronto, March 8, 2002
Program note:

The march is connected with both military and alternative political gatherings. Trying to understand the form, I’ve been listening to Purcell’s Queen’s Funeral March, the conga playing of Québec Summit protestors and the strangely military snap of Old Mother Hubbard (performed by the US Air Force Band). Revisiting this nursery rhyme, I was struck by the revolutionary aspirations of the last verse:

The dame made a curtsey, 

The dog made a bow;

The dame said, “Your servant,” 

The dog said, “Bow, wow.”

In bringing together disparate sources of inspiration, I wanted to retain a sense of their independent directions. With the intensification of policing at protests, a march may become a labyrinth with groups encountering barricades and teargas, circling back and morphing into a many-headed creature whose aspirations are diverse and sometimes divergent. The reporting of such events is frequently rife with omissions and silences.

Dive(rs)

piano trio [3′] 2004.

X Dive(rs)

piano trio [3′] 2004.

Commissioner: Composing for a Change and Music Toronto.
Premiere: Gryphon Trio, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, February 27, 2004.
Program note:

dive(rs) began life as a study for an orchestra piece for l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal (Buzzard). I found myself sandwiched between dance music by two Russians: Stravinsky’s Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. In writing this trio, I wanted to see what sense of the dancers’ movement and grace would survive my somewhat brutal compostional process of digitization and digestion. In chewing my sources well, it’s possible that I also wanted to cause them a little pain. Thankfully the dance survives — in spite of me, a young swan waltzes backwards up towards the ceiling…the firebird, slightly burnt, turns, leaps, flies into the sky…

 

Te Kahu

Violin and CD [15′].

X Te Kahu

Violin and CD [15′].

Commissioned by Mark Menzies (Los Angeles, USA) with funding from Creative New Zealand. 2002.

One spring afternoon, I wander over the hills of Te Kahu farm with Mark Menzies. This is the New Zealand sheep farm where he grew up: a place of steep gullies where voices (and bagpipes) echo and macrocarpa trees cling stubbornly to the eroded slopes. Following the sound of frenzied bleating we arrive at the docking yard, a make-shift enclosure of metal gates and ramps where lambs and ewes are separated for the first time in their lives. While chatting politely with the resident farmers, the male lambs are neutered, a pungent smell of barbecue wafting over the paddock. ” Did you use to go to Raukawa School? What do you do in LA? Have you been up to the house, your old place, to have a look around?”

Violin and piano are played by the same performer.

Compact disc is amplified with loudspeaker playback.

Recorded voices: Mark Menzies, farmer Greaves.
Bagpipes: Bill Menzies.

Te Kahu was composed for Mark Menzies with funding from Creative New Zealand.

Snap

string quartet [15’] 2001.

X Snap

string quartet [15’] 2001.

Commissioner: The New Zealand String Quartet
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: NZSQ, Adam Festival of Chamber Music, Nelson, New Zealand, February 6, 2001.

Program note:

‘Foreign kingdoms are like an enormous photograph’.

So begins ‘La Vuelta al Reino Extranjero’, performed by the greatest son huasteco trio in Mexico, Los Camperos de Valles. Comprising the virtuosic violinist Heliodoro Copado, Marcos Hernández’ extraordinary falsetto and the jarana guitar playing of Gregorio Solano, this trio sizzles to the words of a legendary trovador, Serapio El Güero Nieto. Rhythmic sleights-of-hand twist an already complex argument of two against three into an intoxicating ‘journey to a foreign kingdom’. The words of each verse were extemporized, the last line of each repeated as the first of the next, in an endless chain of surreal connections.

Snap is a musical tourist’s album of this virtuosic performance.

rush

clarinet in Bb, 2 bass clarinets [7’] 2000.

X rush

clarinet in Bb, 2 bass clarinets [7’] 2000.

Commissioner: The Solaris Trio
Premiere: International Clarinetfest, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, July, 2000.
Program note:

My high school in New Zealand specialised in rugby and horticulture. I was interested in neither. Twenty years later, rush takes me back to my roots — crisp early mornings playing in the school clarinet choir, an aberration in a world that spoke the language of rugby and kiwifruit. Revisiting the school sportsfield, rush is named after the rugby technique of moving the ball forward with short kicks and runs.

rush is dedicated to the Solaris Trio.

Pale on the Ground

afl/fl, vn, va, vc, db [15’] 2000.

X Pale on the Ground

afl/fl, vn, va, vc, db [15’] 2000.

Commissioner: Continuum Contemporary Musi
Funder: Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: Continuum Ensemble, The Music Gallery, Toronto, Canada, June 16, 2000.
Program note:

When a handful of 9,000 year-old flutes was unearthed recently in China, the first impulse of the archaeologists was to play them. While hoping to reconnect to a lost time and culture, the archaeologists succeeded in cracking several of the instruments. More careful study revealed that the flutes were tuned to ‘familiar’ scales, enabling their former owners to play ‘perhaps even music’. A researcher then performed a Chinese folk tune, Little Cabbage, on one of the flutes. Xiao Bai Cai is the heartfelt lament of a child usurped by a stepmother and new stepbrother: “pale on the ground”, Little Cabbage weeps for the past.

With its mixture of carelessness, optimism and nostalgic yearning for times past, this story fascinates me. In 9,000 years time, what will other beings make of the crumbling remains of violins, flutes and double basses? Pale on the Ground is an invented music built on the imagined ruins of our own fragile culture.

Pale on the Ground is dedicated to my stepson, Nicholas.

Trellis

alto sax, bass clarinet + ‘cello [15’] 1999.

X Trellis

alto sax, bass clarinet + ‘cello [15’] 1999.

Commissioner: Mark Storey
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: 175 East, Hopetoun Alpha, Auckland, New Zealand, May 9, 1999.
Program note:

Three things:

1. Listening to Othello, drifting in and out of sleep, I hear Iago warn his master, ‘Beware my lord of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster; cruelly aye it doth mock the meat it feeds on, and with its poison doth change our nature.’

2. A dislocated groove repeatedly interrupts  a seduction in the ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’ song Can’t Hide Love.

3. Trellis: what my sweet peas climb up each summer. It’s loosely woven together from strips of wood – named after the light-textured Roman fabric trilicius, ‘woven with three threads’.

Circus Dog

six pianos [9’] 1995.

X Circus Dog

six pianos [9’] 1995.

Commissioner: Piano Circus
Premiere: Piano Circus, Birmingham Symphony Hall, England, January 2, 1995.
Program note:

For a composer, the piano is so often merely a means to an end — the blank sheet on which we write. Focusing on melody seemed an apt way for me to rediscover the piano’s own voice. I owe a debt of inspiration to many pianists and composers, among them Aretha Franklin, Glenn Gould, Sergio Mendes, Theolonius Monk, Nina Simone and Cecil Taylor.

Egg & Tongue

string quartet [10’] 1994.

X Egg & Tongue

string quartet [10’] 1994.

Premiere: Lydian String Quartet, Princeton, January 17, 1994.
Program note:

he ‘Elgin Marbles’, taken from the Parthenon, lie at the centre of a long-standing property dispute between Greece and the British Government. Encountering these sculptures in the British Museum for the first time, I was intrigued to learn that one of the decorative motifs adorning its carved stone form was known as ‘egg and tongue’. The sensuously rounded forms of eggs and tongues alternate and repeat along the borders of the monumental sculptures, an ancient pattern combining symbols of virility and fertility. The motif is widespread: several years later, walking through the ruined architecture of the Syrian city of Apamea, I found tumbled-down stones of Roman structures bearing this same pattern, rain-washed stones in a field of crocuses.

In the music of ‘Egg and Tongue’, I play with ideas of patterning and fragmentation, cultural property and style. Familiar motifs repeat, adorn, are lost and take new shapes.