Premier, January 14, 2011 by the Scharoun Ensemble (Berlin Philharmonic)
fixed media and unfixed instrumentation
Roman tableaux, 2010, is about places that I encountered in rome upon my arrival in the fall of 2010. My home at the American academy on the gianicolo, rising above central rome, is a place where wind, from a breeze to a gale, is often felt, and given voice in the tall umbrella pines Around the academy. Formless, yet tangible, wind and air is unbounded and free to roam. Also Throughout rome, fountains constantly flow water, from the humble drinking type (il nosone), to those of bernini. Water and it’s necessary infrastructure is ubiquitous from the tiber to the Aquedutto trajen which runs (empty now) Underneath the main Academy building. The sound of water is never far away in Rome. One can sense in every aspect of the city a struggle against containment-escape routes for this abundant force. Both air and water are quintessential natural expressions of flow, which native cultures revered for their powers of renewal. By contrast, Two human edifices, perhaps the most popular, stand out amongst the city center: the Coliseum (rising high still) and the Roman Forum (sunken behind puzzling modernity), centerpieces in a saturated layering of available human history. These four iconic fixtures, features and forces articulate to me the elements of the four cardinal directions. Air on the hilltop offers an east facing freshness and motion like the constant reminder of sunrise. The Coliseum contrasts human-produced fire (South), passion, and a physical energy of the monumentalness of its construction, and the events that we know it was built for. Water (west) is a perfect model of how natures wisdom follows the path of least resistance, and offers a contrast to the forum whose fixtures resist (and have largely lost to) the forces of Water, gravity and human “progress”. The forum, nearly consumed by mother earth (north), recalls to us the patience of time, and begs a continued search for wisdom.
An alternating Musical structure asks Performers to listen to a fixed media part, constructed largely from sounds of the four elements presented in both natural and human manners. There is a built in flow between planned and spontaneous that recollects balanced life on this planet. The wind will blow and the water flow long after we and our coliseums and forums are gone. Ironically, it is the stone of the coliseum and forum which is crumbling, while the more flexible earth forces patiently grind away at their hardness. It is natural for humans to build, but it is un-natural for nature to control, and perhaps this is a quintessential human tension, seeking resolution at the opening of the Aquarian age. Roman tableaux flows seamlessly from one section to the next: between human and nature, between ensemble and fixed media between set and improvised, in a continuous unbroken nonlinear timeline: sonic postcards mailed out from rome, to any whose imagination is ready to play in the eternal city.
Roman tableaux first and foremost, asks that the performer listen. Rather than spending practice time learning notes, I ask that performers learn the fixed media by improvising with it and following a few basic guidelines or suggestions. many sounds in the fixed media can be imitated or played with (under/around/over/inside/outside/etc) on any instrument using both traditional and extended techniques in all of their full range of expression. Play with the music to play the music, and be patient. If you do not know what to do as an individual performer, go into deep listening until something strikes you or comes to you. This is music to be made more through the primacy of your ears and your listening experience, rather than your mind or an intellectual process. Perform as a listener, not as a performer. Play what you want to hear and bring your suggestions to the group rehearsal. This music ultimately must be made in community with those you are performing alongside.
*Each player can read off the score, play strictly by ear, For timing, follow a stopwatch, be intuitive or devise any other mode that is helpful to you. Space has been left in the score for you to add your own notes and/or instructions.