Live Performance by OSSIA
Zach Sheets, flute; Erin Lensing, oboe; Kurt Galvan, piano; Chris Demetriou, percussion; Molly Germer, violin; Dustin Seo, cello; Edo Frenkel, conductor; Clay Mettens, electronics
Barnes Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
March 11th, 2015
Movement I - 0:00
Movement II - 4:26
My diptych, Through the Blackbird’s Eye, is a response to R.S. Thomas’s set of poems “Thirteen Blackbirds Look at a Man,” which is, in turn, a response to Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Thomas reverses the perspective of Steven’s iconic poem, depicting a man as an intruder among blackbirds. Thomas’s thirteen short scenes roughly mirror the length, internal organization, and non-narrative style of Steven’s set. The poems range from humorous and quizzical to violent (“We wipe our beaks . . . wasting the dawn’s/ jewelry to get rid/ of the taste of a man.”). I admire Thomas’s succinct but exacting depictions, and his ability to characterize a multiplicity of attitudes towards the man. My piece focuses on two of these attitudes (or clusters of scenes) and the omnipresent feeling of “otherness” imposed on the man.
The first movement juxtaposes brittle, dry sounds with agitated twittering. Certain members of the ensemble are cast as instigators, threatening the rhythmic regularity and cool indifference of the stream of crystalline raindrops. The clarity and transparency of the first movement contrast greatly with the haziness of the second. Throughout the second movement, moments of strange, glittering beauty emerge from outbursts of violence. The music is constantly poised to disappear or evaporate.
The sound of the acoustic performers is manipulated by live electronics, which are meant to extend the capabilities of the sextet. With the aid of electronics, the small chamber group is able to produce sounds and textures more characteristic of larger ensembles. The sense of “otherness,” then, does not result from a conflict between man and machine, but from internal divisions within the ensemble. Groups of instruments and their electronic shadows merge to form hyper-instruments, while others act independently. Through the Blackbird’s Eye was commissioned by OSSIA, the student-run new music organization at the Eastman School of Music.