Oil & Water

3 3 3 3 / 4 3 3 1 / timp / 3 perc / hp / str + tape [16′ 30″] 2019.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Funder: Elaine Lebenbom Award for Female Composers
Premiere: Detroit Symphony Orchestra with conductor Leonard Slatkin, Symphony Hall, Detroit, June 7-9, 2019.

Program note:

Water flows between the Great Lakes cities of Detroit and Toronto, where I live. Looking at the map, I am reminded of the powerful work of the late Ojibway Elder Josephine Mandamin, who walked around each of the Great Lakes to honour and pray for the water. Her dedication made me wonder how a piece of orchestral music could weave together places and stories relating to the struggle for clean water. Oil & Water journeys through field recordings chronicling the ecological and the political watershed: the voices of protestors at Standing Rock, holding steadfast against police water cannons; mechanical hums and thrums of Toronto’s water pumping station; the shouts of Detroit’s citizens blocking the water shutoff trucks; the exuberant rhythms of Crazy Woman Creek in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains; the chants of citizens defending the Salish Sea from increased oil tanker traffic; and the rhythmic counterpoint of spring peepers in Ottawa’s Mer Bleue wetland. Traditional teachings remind us that water never gives up, overcoming all obstacles in its way. May we do water justice.

In transcribing field recordings, I rely on computer software and my intuition to help map sounds onto the orchestra. This translation process often leads to unexpected leaps and digressions. At times the original sounds resurface then disappear, leaving ghostly traces: the dissonant chords of the pumping station, the rhythmic impulses of cascades and swirling eddies.

I am grateful to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Elaine Lebenbom for the opportunity to compose Oil & Water, and to the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming for the artistic residency which allowed me to begin work on this piece — and plunge into the October chill of Crazy Woman Creek.

Audio credits:

Wong, Julia Carrie. “Dakota Access Pipeline: 300 Protestors Injured After Police Use Water Cannons”, The Guardian. November 21, 2016.

Detroit Water Brigade. “Detroiters Blockade Water Shutoff Trucks”, YouTube. July 10, 2014.
Thanks to Monica Lewis-Patrick and We The People of Detroit for permission to include this clip.

Alstead, Robert. “Burnaby Mountain Arrests”, YouTube. November 21, 2014.
Thanks to Robert Alstead for permission to use this clip from his documentary “Running on Climate”.