For three sopranos
First performance, Wedding of Andreas Friman and Maria Mellstrom,
Stockholm, September 17 2005
(note: version for soprano, tenor, viola, bass clarinet, double bass given preview performance by Anna Maria Friman, John Potter, Morgan Goff, Roger Heaton and Gavin Bryars, Musée des Beaux Arts, Angers, September 10 2005)
Text of "Bibe aquam" (2005)
for three sopranos
dedicated to Andreas Friman and Maria Mellstrom
Bibe aquam de cisterna tua et fluenta putei tui
Deriventur fonts tui foras et in plateis aquas tuas divide
Habeto eas solus nec sint alieni participles tui
Sit vena tua benedicta et laetare cum muliere adulescentiae tuae
Cerva carissima et gratissimus hinulus
Ubera eius inebrient te omni tempore in amore illius delectare iugiter
Drink waters out of thine own cistern and running waters out of thine own well.
Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets
Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee.
Let thy fountains be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
(from Proverbs ch.5 v.15-19)
Instrumentation: violin, cello, electric guitar, double bass, electric keyboard, pre-recorded tape
First Performance: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley California April 23rd 1999
Biped was commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation for the dance by Merce Cunningham. It is one of the first new musical compositions commissioned by them since the death of John Cage in 1992. Like all of Merce's work it involved a collaboration with visual artists, in this case Paul Keiser and Shelley Eshkar who had developed a very striking technique of video motion capture. In working on the music Merce and I agreed that we would follow the method established between himself and John Cage of working independently but towards a common goal, thereby avoiding any planned one-to-one relationship between music, dance and decor, but working to the same overall programme length, here 45 minutes.
Merce and I did exchange faxes to give each of us pointers as to the other's thinking, and I did see examples of the animation techniques which were to form the work's design. When I asked if he had ever spoken with John Cage in advance about the work's structure and form (how many sections, whether dancers formed duos, trios, quartets ensembles and so on) he said that he always did,, but equally that John always ignored the information..
I had worked with John in the late 1960's and his work had been a key factor in my decision to move away from improvised music towards composition. Indeed, seeing the Cunningham company in London in 1966 represented a key moment in my artistic development. The very first piece I saw was a solo called Nocturne, danced by Merce, designed by Robert Rauschenberg and with Satie's five Nocturnes for solo piano played by John Cage. Merce wore a white costume, there was a white gauze behind which he danced, and pure bright while light on the gauze, behind it and in front of it, produced a stunning effect.
In Biped, just as, with the visual element, there is live dance and its digital 'shadow' through the projected video animation (curiously, like the very first piece I saw, projected on to a front gauze) so I chose to have a form of digital replication within the music. The live instruments (electric guitar, cello, electric keyboard, acoustic double , violin and percussion) being reinforced by their electronic equivalents. The sampled material is played by members of my ensemble, who are also the live performers whenever possible, with the addition of Takehisa Kosugi, the Cunningham company's music director since Cage's death, on violin and improvised percussion. The music falls into six (unequal) sections and is played without a break.
Dedicated to Charlie Haden.
Commissioned by the Camden Music Festival, London.
Instrumentation: Solo bass, strings (3,3,3,2,1 or 5,5,5,5,3), bass clarinet, percussion ( 1 player - vibes, marimba, tam-tam, 2 cymbals)
First performance: Shaw Theatre, London, April 6th 1987 (Charlie Haden, bass)
By the Vaar (1987)
By the Vaar was written as an extended adagio for the jazz bass player Charlie Haden accompanied by strings, bass clarinet and percussion. It was commissioned by the Camden Festival and first performed there in April 1987 along with a number of other works of mine having a close connection with jazz. The solo bass part, which begins with fully written material and gradually leads to an extended improvisation, was written with Charlie Haden's sound in mind. I have known Charlie's playing since the time when, as a schoolboy in Yorkshire, I heard broadcasts of the extraordinary first recordings of the Ornette Coleman quartet, of which Charlie was a key member and, curiously enough, the other composer featured in that Camden concert was Ornette himself. When I became a professional bassist working chiefly in jazz and improvised music I knew the individual sounds of most improvising bass-players and Charlie's sound is a special one that I have heard and loved in many musical contexts. The title of the piece comes from my opera Doctor Ox's Experiment: the "Vaar" being a river in Flanders, not far from Bruges, which flows through the town in which the action of the opera takes place. During the opera there is a quiet and almost uneventful interlude where two lovers, Frantz and Suzel, pass the afternoon by the river, the one fishing, the other working on her tapestry. By the Vaar started out as a preliminary sketch for this scene, like a backdrop for the singers, and aspects of the music appear in the final opera. In this concert work, the solo bass plays chiefly in the low and middle registers, exploiting the unique qualities of Charlie's own bass, with its gut strings and resonant pizzicato notes.