COMPOSITIONS BY DAVID A. JAFFE all pieces, sorted by date of composition
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1995) a concerto for Radio Drum-controlled Disklavier, harpsichord, harp, mandolin, guitar,bass, harmonium and two percussionists---70'
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1995)---Two statues, a temple, a roof-top garden, two tombs and a lighthouse. All but one, the Pyramids, has been destroyed, either by Nature or human hands. Taken as a whole, they reveal a crosshatch of parallels and oppositions: Two deal with death---the Pyramids and the Mausoleum. The Hanging Gardens glorify cultivated nature, while Artemis was the goddess of wilderness and wild animals. The two statues are of the heavens---Zeus, the god of thunder and rain; and the sun god of the Colossus of Rhodes.
How can the essence of these monuments be conveyed in music? In searching for an answer, I turned to two remarkable new instruments: the Yamaha Disklavier and the Mathews/Boie Radio Drum. At the Banff Centre for the Arts, where Andrew Schloss and I were Resident Artists in 1992, I conducted a series of experiments combining the Radio Drum and Disklavier and discovered that the flexible and seemingly magical mapping of percussion gestures onto piano sound makes possible the grand, monumental, yet very uncharacteristically "pianistic", sounds I was looking for. The sound of this Drum-Piano is further expanded by an unusual orchestra consisting of instruments that extend the sound of the piano. Finally, an improvisational approach to the Drum Piano part allows the performer to respond and react to his unusual instrument. The result is a new kind of piano concerto.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is seventy-minutes long, in seven ten-minute movements:
I. "The Pyramids" (Giza, Egypt; 3000 B.C.) is constructed of ponderous massive blocks of sound, comprising all 88 notes of the piano. The movement ends in a mist of dead kings and forgotten slaves.
II. "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon" (Babylon, Iraq; 689 B.C.) is suspended on a simple melody, ornamented in a variety of ways, with the Radio Drummer performing a "time map" floating between harmonic and canonic textures.
III. "The Statue of Zeus in the Great Temple of the Sacred Grove" (Olympia, Greece; 437 B.C.) is based on heavy pulsations at various conflicting tempi, each suggesting giant footsteps. The Radio Drummer improvises metric modulations. At the end of the movement, Zeuss' penchant for thunder is in evidence.
IV. " The Colossus of Rhodes" (Rhodes, Turkey; 280 B.C.) invokes the colossal statue of the Sun God, his feet on each side of the harbor with ships sailing beneath. It opens with shimmering high trills that progress through a series of huge melodic arches. The trills transform into a steady pulsation that becomes a wild fiddle tune, performed by the Radio Drummer over a string-band accompaniment, until diverging into chaos over a trilling statement of the "arch" melody.
V. " The Temple of Artemis, the Mother Goddess" (Ephesus, Turkey; 400 B.C.?), the climactic center-piece of the entire work, is an unbridled ecstatic celebration of Artemis, goddess of wild animals to the Greeks, and of all Nature and motherhood to peoples farther East. It depicts a religious procession, focused on the carrying of the cult statue and suggests the diverse cultural influences such pilgrims brought with them as they migrated to the West.
VI. "The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus" (Halicarnassus, Turkey; 350 B.C.?) evokes a formal timelessness and stillness.
VII. "The Pharos of Alexandria" (Alexandria, Egypt; 270 B.C.) serves as a coda to the entire work. Like the ancient light-house beacon shining into the night, the Seven Wonders have shone through the ages as signs of the creative spirit of Humankind.
Work on this piece was supported in part by a Collaborative Composer Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The solo piano part was shaped in collaboration with Andrew Schloss, using his extensive work with the Radio Drum as a foundation.
Terra Non Firma (1992) for four cellos and Radio Drum-conducted electronic orchestra---14'
Terra Non Firma (1992) is scored for four cellos and an "electronic orchestra" (sampler), conducted by the Mathews Radio Baton. The piece was commissioned by the University of Victoria in honor of a visit by Max Mathews, inventor of the Radio Baton and the Conductor computer program, and commemorates the October 1989 Loma Prieta (San Francisco) Earthquake.
The rock-solid accompaniment ordinarily provided by the tape part in a conventional piece for tape and instruments is replaced by the fluidity of the Radio Baton, as the conductor leads the cellists with his right hand while performing the Baton part with his left hand. Similarly, the instrumental parts consist entirely of sliding pitches, and the electronic orchestra is made up of shaky growls, buzzes, trills, bounces and wobbles. Everything is constantly in flux---tempo, timbre, material. The result is a sense of insecurity, like walking on unstable ground, forever shifting under your feet.
The following anecdote explains something of the inspiration for the piece:
It so happens that I was scheduled to read string quartets with Max the day of the Quake. Afterwards, I drove straight to Max's house, ready to play, not realizing that without electrical power, we would have a hard time reading the music. We sat around the dinner table by candlelight listening on a battery-powered radio to reports of the fires and bridge disasters. I went over to the computer music laboratory at Stanford and discovered what was left of my office: the ceiling-high shelves had toppled and the original scores, parts and tapes were in a huge mound in the middle of the room, mixed with bits of plaster, broken glass and splinters of what was once a desk.
Similarly, in Terra Non Firma, fragments of various musics. . .a polka, a waltz, a tango. . .are tossed around like bits of debris. These few points of reference are given and snatched away so unpredictably that they serve only to heighten a sense of transience and impermanence.
It seems to me that life is something like that.
No Trumpets, No Drums (1992) for organ, trombone and percussion---15' No Trumpets, No Drums (1992) is a hypothetical set of negotiations, toward an Israeli/Palestinian peace settlement. In the abstract language of instrumental music, the piece deals with the very concrete issues that would need to be negotiated if this generations-long conflict is to be resolved.
The piece is structured spatially, with the plan matching the progress of the negotiations. At the opening, the players are far apart, each presenting its own point of view in harsh, uncompromising terms. As the piece progresses, they find some common ground and gradually move toward one another. Finally, they join together in a song of mourning. Throughout this process, each retains its own identity, its own culture, its own heritage. Abstracted elements of Arabic and Jewish music appear throughout the piece, which is in seven continuous sections:
IV. Divided City
VII. Mourning the Dead
This work was jointly commissioned by the Palo Alto and San Francisco chapters of the American Guild of Organists and the Organ Consortium at Stanford.
American Miniatures (1992) for computer-processed drums, voices and strings---12'
AMERICAN MINIATURES (1992) for computer-processed voices, violins, mandolins, guitars, banjos and drums was commissioned by Lynn Kirby for an experimental film dealing with the evolution of the American Identity. The music has two purposes---it is used both as the sound track of the film, and as a concert piece that is performed over loudspeakers in a concert setting. In both incarnations, the American historical theme is clear.
The music is in five short movements, each dealing with an aspect of the American Identity in both a particular and a general sense. The titles of the movements are as follows:
1. "Roads West" focuses on the urge to explore, specifically the westward movement of the 1800's.
2. "After the Battle of Bull Run" depicts the conflicts of race and sovereignty of the American Civil War.
3. "The Dust Bowl" suggests something of the loneliness and poverty of the dust storms of the years of the Great Depression, that forced farmers off their land. More generally, the movement represents the dispossessed nature of the American psyche.
4. "Gold" is concerned with greed and the quest for wealth, particularly concerning the 1849 Gold Rush and the building of the railroads by the ruthless Robber Barons.
5. "Neighborhoods" is a reminder of the influence of the past on immigrants from Europe and elsewhere.
The piece was created by processing recorded sounds on a NeXT computer. The sounds range from single notes, as is the case with the drums, to entire musical phrases. There is no score other than the algorithmic mix specification. Quarter tones appear throughout the piece, as do diverging and converging multi-speed canons. The drum material in the second movement is based on Congolese rhythms and was created using an "automatic improvisation" program written in Common Lisp. The source recordings were performed by Tom Pressburger (drums), Emily Bezar (female voices) and the composer (strings and male voices). The software used was the Music Kit mixsounds program (written by the composer), Common Music, the UCSD phase vocoder by F. Richard Moore and convolution programs by Christopher Penrose.
Schumann Variations (with Christopher Penrose) (1992) for computer-processed tape---5'
"Schumann Variations" by David A. Jaffe and Christopher Penrose
"Schumann Variations" is a short (five-minute) piece commissioned by Lynn Kirby to accompany her film "Three Domestic Interiors". The film takes us inside the private lives of three people: a young man, a young woman and an old woman. Similarly, the music takes an intimate look at a passage from Schumann's piano music. The piano is turned inside out, doubled back on itself and held up to a mirror. The result is a haunting sense of displacement.
Software used included the Music Kit's mixsounds program, the phase vocoder, and convolution.
Due to extreme deadline pressures on this commission, I enlisted the help of Christopher Penrose to finish in time. Christopher did variations 4 and 6. I did the rest. -- D.J.
Songs of California (based on the words of Juniperro Serra, Collis P. Huntington, Ishi, Joe Hill, Cesar Chavez, and John Muir) (1991), an acapella cantata for twelve singers ---15'
Songs of California portrays some of the relentless forces that have shaped California's history---forces of greed and courage, sacrifice and exploitation, religion, revolution, progress and destruction. The text is based on the words of six men who are part of California's past and present. The piece was commissioned by Chanticleer, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Composer-In- Residence Program. It is in five movements as follows:
I. From Majorca to Monterey---Juniperro Serra founded the California missions. Of his first sighting of the Indians, he wrote, "I saw that which I can hardly believe, their going naked as Adam in Paradise, before sin." The music depicts a meeting of the "neophyte" converts. Their tendency to stray away from the new teaching and return to their own ways is symbolized by the emergence of owl calls.
II. From Sacramento to Washington D.C.---Collis P. Huntington rose from a Connecticut hardware dealer to the dominant railroad tycoon of the West. He forged the first transcontinental railroad, then proceeded to strangle California with monopolist strategies. Unlike his flamboyant partner Stanford, he did not enjoy being in the public eye, nor was he given to philanthropy. His attitude about government was: "They have their laws and we have our railway." The music rushes forward like a Central Pacific steam engine.
III. From Waganupa to the Museum of Anthropology---In 1911, an emaciated Indian was discovered on the outskirts of a California mining town. He was the last of the Yahi, a tribe that had been destroyed by conflicts with miners during the Gold Rush. An anthropologist gave him the name "Ishi", which means "man" in Yahi, and provided him with a home in a San Francisco museum. Ishi spent his last years learning the ways of twentieth century technology and teaching anthropologists about his lost people. When asked if he would like to return to his homeland, he replied, "No. It is dead there. I want to stay where I am." The music was suggested by Ishi's own songs, recorded shortly before he died of tuberculosis in 1916.
IV. From the Factories to the Fields---Joe Hill and Cesar Chavez represent two eras in the California labor movement.
Seeking a better life, Joe Hill emigrated from Sweden to America in 1901. He made his way across the country, always chasing the job. Seeing the abysmal treatment of workers was no better in California than it had been back East, he joined the Industrial Workers of the World and became a voice for the labor movement, writing new words to popular tunes for every strike, action, and rally. At the age of thirty-six, he was arrested on a trumped-up murder charge, convicted and executed. In his final words, he wished good luck to those who would continue the struggle.
Cesar Chavez, born of a Mexican-American farming family in Arizona, worked in the California fields and emerged as the leader of the struggle for the rights of agricultural workers. An admirer of the philosophy of Ghandi, he fervently believes in non-violent resistance as the only moral way to bring about change. His dedication, faith and hard work led to the formation of the United Farm Workers and have resulted in the nation's first table-grape labor contract and regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides such as DDT.
The music is simple and straightforward, in the manner of a folk song, and refers to actual picket line melodies.
V. From the Valley to the Pinnacles---John Muir, was born in the Scottish hills, but felt a passion for California's Sierra Nevada. His all-encompassing involvement and dedication to nature spanned the scientific and transcendental, the literary and adventurous, the social and political. He founded the Sierra Club and fought successfully for the protection of Yosemite Valley. Nevertheless, he was defeated in his final battle. In 1913, President Wilson signed a bill authorizing the damning of the Hetch Hetchy, converting what Muir considered a "cathedral" into an ugly water trough. Muir once said, "There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. The battle for conservation will go on endlessly. Be of good cheer."
Wildlife (co-composed by Andrew Schloss) (1991) an interactive computer piece for two players, playing Mathews/Boie Radio Drum and Zeta electronic/MIDI violin ---25-40'
WILDLIFE a computer-extended duo for Zeta Violin, Mathews/Boie Radio Drum and two computers co-composed and performed by David A. Jaffe & Andrew Schloss
Wildlife is an interactive work for two performers, a violinist and a percussionist, performing on new instruments, augmented by two computers. The malleable nature of the Zeta Violin and Mathews/Boie Radio Drum allows the barriers that normally separate performers to be broken down, challenging the inviolability of the control a performer normally exerts over his instrument. For example, the violinist's glissandi can change the pitch of the notes played by the percussionist. Alternatively, the pitches performed by the percussionist can be completely determined by the violinist. Furthermore, the two performers interact with the computers in a flexible, symbiotic manner. The title comes from the precarious position the performers find themselves..."living on the wild side". It also refers to the semi-autonomous nature of the computer programs.
The piece is in five movements, with each movement exploring a different ensemble relationship. The titles of the movements are as follows:
1. Sonata "Sacre"
2. The Most Religious
3. Reversed Orbits
4. Oracular and Prophetic
5. Edible Trance
The two computers used are a Macintosh and a NeXT. The Macintosh computer receives serial data from the Radio Drum and MIDI data from the Zeta violin and does preliminary event processing, using software built by the composers with the MAX system. The Macintosh then sends MIDI data to the NeXT computer, which does further event processing, algorithmic generation and DSP (digital signal processing) synthesis, as well as sending MIDI data to a Yamaha TG77 synthesizer. The NeXT computer is running software built by the composers using Ensemble and the NeXT Music Kit system.
Note that no stored sequences or pre-recorded material of any kind are used---all sound is produced in response to physical and musical gestures of the performers. Although the music is worked out in great detail, the performers are given the freedom to spontaneously alter its flow on micro and macro time scales.
Man Meets Dog (how it all began) (1991) for small male chorus and large chorus (SATB) ---8'
Man Meets Dog (how it all began) for two choruses is dedicated to the memory of Konrad Lorenz. Lorenz shared the qualities of a great scientist and humanist. Through his work on animal behavior in natural settings, on topics such as imprinting and aggression, he helped us understand the forces of nature not only in the animal world, but in the human world as well.
The text of this piece is based on Lorenz' theory of how wild dogs were first domesticated. The piece explores the ancient voices of instinct and the wild, voices that still call out from the depths of consciousness of even the most domesticated dog---and the most civilized man.
The text of the piece is as follows:
Man Meets Dog (how it all began) (by David A. Jaffe)
I. Sundown. Dream time. Fine kill. Full belly. Until tomorrow. Saber-tooth tiger, please do stay away.
II. grrr, woof. ah-ooo, ruff. ow-ow-aooo. rar-rar-rar-rar-rar. rarararararararararararararara...
III. Scram! Be gone! Get out'a here! Leave us alone, until tomorrow, please, in peace!
IV. And so it was, before it all began. Then times turned bad.
And now through grass tall in open plains, come a few scrawny men, some women, children, with bone-tipped spears.
Like fearful deer, this tiny band, high-strung, run-down, driven from home by an enemy stronger.
Banished from the fire where they once slept soundly secure, peaceful, thanks to a guard, a protector, of whom they never were aware.
The lowly pack of jackals there, detested, who followed and pestered them, scavenging refuse made such a clamor, on approach of danger, that it sounded a warning from afar.
But now, missing, empty. Uncanny stillness, sinister, foreboding terrors lurking, silent.
Suddenly, an idea, an impulse, from a new leader, a genius, a visionary: ("leave some meat on the ground")
The others revolt, but he threatens them with his spear until they back off.
"Leave some meat on the ground."
Again he pauses, leaves meat, goes on.
"LEAVE SOME MEAT ON THE GROUND!"
Now, sky already dark, camp fire burning, wind drops. Far away: gnawing bones,snapping jaws, a cackle.
And, in the light of the fire, a jackal.
So it all began, and so it would be.
V. Come here! grrr. Don't be afraid! woof. For you, forever. ruff. From now on, ah-ooo, together, partners, ow-ow-aooo.
Canis! Lupus! Homo Sapien! In alliance! Until tomorrow. Jackal, wolf, dingo, chow, husky, dog, woman and man.
Beacons of the Sky (1990) for chorus (SATB) and 1 percussionist ---6'
Beacons of the Sky, by David A. Jaffe, is scored for percussion solo and chorus. The piece is in three sections that gradually move from pure noise sounds, through a kind of approximate pitch singing, to richly contrapuntal singing. Beacons of the Sky was commissioned as part of the composer's 1991 NEA Composer-In-Residence position with Chanticleer.
The beacons referred to in the title of the piece are pulsars. Pulsars are incredibly dense stars whose spinning motion emits a pulsing radiation that can be detected over great distances. These extraordinary objects can serve as reference points should one find himself wandering through the universe. Pulsars were indicated on a map sent with the Pioneer 10, the first interstellar spacecraft. This map is intended to explain, to whomever the spacecraft might come in contact with, how to find the planet Earth. The beacons are represented musically in the piece by various types of pulsation.
The text to Beacons of the Sky was written by the composer:
From dawn to eternity, traveler's advisory, measuring all history, beacons of the sky.
Number Man (for the ghost of J.S. Bach) (based on the poem by Carl Sandburg) (1990) a cantata for oboe/E.H. and solo voices (SATB), with optional chorus (SATB) ---30'
Number Man (a cantata for the ghost of J. S. Bach) is scored for oboe/English horn, solo voices, and optional chorus (the chorus is omitted in the taped performance.) Work on the piece was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. From one point of view, Number Man is a cantata for oboe with voices obbligato. From another, it is an oboe concerto accompanied by voices. The text is by Carl Sandburg and is given on the following page. Number Man is dedicated to oboist Kathy Geisler and was inspired by her love of the Bach Cantatas. The movements of the piece are as follows:
IIa. Fives and Tens IIb. Pastorale
IIIa. Sixes and Sevens IIIb. Burlesca
IVa. Twos and Fours IVb. Musette
Va. Eights and Nines Vb. March
VI. All the Numbers
VII. A Million Cipher Silences
VIII. Love Numbers, Luck Numbers
IX. Goodbye Number and Invocation
The Grass Valley Fire, 1988 (1988)for two mandolins, mandola and mando-cello ---10' Also, version for string quartet (1989).
GRASS VALLEY FIRE, 1988 for mandolin quartet commemorates the 1988 fire that burned 49 square miles around Grass Valley, California, including the home of the composer's sister. The piece's three continuous sections loosely follow the progress of the fire---the opening suggests the pastoral quality of the grasslands before the fire, the middle evokes the fire as it takes hold in earnest and the conclusion is a stark desolate reworking of the opening, depicting the charred remains the fire left behind. The fire itself is represented as an intensity of rhythm, derived from the composer's experience playing Afro-Cuban charranga music on the violin.
This piece, written for the Modern Mandolin Quartet, was the first original piece in their repertoire that was designed expressly for their instrumentation. The Quartet gave the premier performance in 1989 at Merkin Concert Hall in New York and have toured the work extensively.
Kangaroos (1988) for mandolin orchestra ---3'
Heartland Horizon (1988) for violin, viola, and cello ---12'
Heartland Horizon was written after a visit to Poland in 1987 when Poland, sometimes called "the heartland of Europe", seemed a country of discontents. A government ostensibly designed to create a classless society had in effect created a privileged class of beaurocrats. With recent events giving the Polish people a new life, it remains to be seen what is on the horizon; whether, along with the best of Western democracy, they will embrace the worst of Western materialism or find a more humane path.
Heartland Horizon is actually a sextet written for three stringed instruments, each playing two complete contrapuntal parts. The piece suggests elements of Yiddish folk music.
Grass (based on the poem by Carl Sandburg) (1987) for female chorus (SSA) or three soloists and computer-generated tape---7.5'
Grass, for three female voices and tape, is concerned with the process of recovery, in particular with the healing of the wounds of war. It was commissioned through a gift from Lincoln and Gloria Ladd for the Skidmore College Chorus. The piece is based on the poem "Grass" by Carl Sandburg.
The tape part is entirely synthetic and uses string synthesis developed by the composer, along with Julius Smith, Kevin Karplus and Alex Strong. It also uses waveguide time-varying reverberation networks created by Julius Smith. The piece was implemented on the Systems Concept Digital Synthesizer at CCRMA, Stanford University in 1987.
Whoop for Your Life! (1987) for orchestra (3333,4331 + baritone horn,pno.,hp.,timp.,3 perc.,str.)---15'
As in many of my works, WHOOP FOR YOUR LIFE! (1987) shows a fascination with the dynamic created when seemingly irreconcilable points of view are combined---in this case, a festive character of celebration is asserted in the shadow of impending disaster. To symbolize this contradiction, I invoke the music of Brazil: vibrant life-affirming music from a country where the rain forests are being destroyed at a catastrophic rate. The title refers to a visit to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) in 1986, where I watched the last of the Whooping Cranes going about their business---feeding, courting, mating, nesting and raising young---as if they were nothing special, and not the last of a species on the edge of extinction.
The piece employs a rich musical language abstracted from various regions---from the Brazilian carnival to the Texas fiddle contest---with a healthy dose of Aransas "whooping" thrown in. This diverse material is balanced by a rigorous sonata-like organization, with nearly all the harmony and melody generated by a single chord of gradually expanding musical intervals. The chord, which first appears in the brass, gives rise to a stubborn rugged march. In contrast, a second theme---introduced by the english horn---is wild, provocative, prodding and probing, like a crane feeding. Next, a developmental section combines fragments of these themes and pits them against one another, leading eventually to a return of the opening brass chord. This hint of a recapitulation turns out to be illusory and gives rise to a new theme in the muted strings. Entirely different in character, this theme resembles a Texas fiddle tune and suggests a personal, peaceful world of fantasy and imagination. Gradually, reality intrudes, as the original themes reassert themselves with renewed vigor and propel the music forward to a cacophonous percussion quartet which coalesces into a climactic concluding section. The piece ends with a mysterious invocation of the opening chord.
WHOOP FOR YOUR LIFE! (1987) was commissioned and premiered by the Redwood Symphony and featured at the 1991 Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz, California.
---David A. Jaffe
The Fishing Trip (1986) for 12-voice male chorus and computer-generated and processed tape---8'
The Fishing Trip, for male chorus and tape, is based on an original text concerning an experience with some friends in the mountains of Eastern Washington when a recreational afternoon suddenly took on a more serious tone. While snorkeling in an ice-cold stream, one of the members of the party caught, with his bare hands, a magnificent three-foot salmon. The group then found itself standing in a circle, staring down at the fish and each person cast a vote as to whether the fish should live or die. The man who caught the fish was Tachumseh, named after the American Indian wife of his great grandfather, General Sherman.
The Fishing Trip was commissioned by Chanticleer. The tape part was created at CCRMA, Stanford University and consists of sounds recorded, processed and synthesized by computer.
The text to the piece is as follows:
Below the icy river skim, a salmon swam so cool so fine, with no idea that no more time will ever come to him.
As then Tachumseh, brave and sure, with snorkel nose, with flipper sole did pry the shadow from a hole and throw him on the shore.
And bone-dry on the thirsty stone, a scream, a spray of mighty tail and we, in awe, did stare and pale to be so all alone.
To everyone the question came: allow for him to live again or offer him as meal for men and never dream of blame?
Below the northern summer star, a salmon meal so warm so fine, and some idea that soon the time will carry us afar.
Impossible Animals (1986) for chorus (SATB) and computer-generated quadraphonic tape ---8' Version for SATB soloists and tape (1989). Version for violin and tape (1989) and version for oboe and tape (1990). Version for five winds and tape (1994).
Impossible Animals was commissioned by the Hamilton College Choir. It is scored for live ensemble and a tape of computer-synthesized voices, created at the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. There are six versions of the piece---for chorus (1986), for four voices (1989), for violin (1989), for oboe (1990), for five winds (1994) and for five voices (1995) and tape
The piece is a fanciful exploration of the boundary between human and animal expression and behavior, and between the realms of Nature and imagination. An antiphonal interplay is set up between the live ensemble and the synthesized voices, with the live instruments assuming the role of narrators of an abstract story, while the computer voices serve as actors, taking on improbable voices of unthinkable animals, and emote in an unknown language. The "story" is concerned with the lives of various imaginary animals seen when looking at the clouds, concluding with a description of a more familiar, though no less unlikely, beast ("...has an upright posture, has an opposable thumb...") with its own special vocalization.
One of the more novel aspects of the tape part is a half-human/half-bird vocalise, a true hybrid between human and bird singing, as if the brain of a Winter Wren had been transplanted inside a wildly-gifted human singer. It was produced by beginning with a recording of a Winter Wren and analyzing it using the PARSHL program (Julius Smith). Frequency and amplitude trajectories were then extracted, segmented into individual "chirps" and tuned to the underlying harmonic background using specially-written software. The range was modified over time and the frequency axis was mapped onto an evolving set of vowels. Finally, the data was resynthesized, using human vocal synthesis (Xavier Rodet), into a new and greatly-transformed rendition of the original wren's song.
The disconcerting combination of human and bird vocalizations is typical of the composer's interest in combining diverse seemingly-irreconcilable elements into a single musical context, manipulating the material in such a way as to bring out and resolve (or not) its inherent contrasts and contradictions. The result is a music that is both radically challenging on the one hand, and strangely reminiscent of past experience on the other. As in a cubist painting, a nose may be sideways, sticking out from the wrong side of the head, but its identification as a nose gives it an expressive power that an abstract shape would not have, while simultaneously setting up a rich network of associations with everyday life.
Ellis Island Sonata (1985) for solo mandolin ---22'
ELLIS ISLAND SONATA for solo mandolin (1985) is a large-scale piece for a small-scale instrument. Its four movements recall the mandolin tunes of the composer's father and grandfather, conveying something of the experience of the Eastern European immigrants as they discovered America.
The piece opens with Arrival, a first glimpse of the tip of the Statue of Liberty, growing into a complex combination of exhilaration, fear, liberation and regret. Ghosts from the Old Country is from the realm of memory, with past voices and places emerging from the night. In Progress or Poverty?, fast-paced city life assaults the senses, reeling like the sped-up scenes from early silent movies, as the economic reality of the "gold-paved" streets hits home. The final movement, Who Are My People?, is a meditation on who we are and where we came from, based on echoes of the preceding movements.
This piece was commissioned by William Walach for "Mandolin Celebration II", with support from the Evelyn W. Preston Memorial Fund and the George A. Long and Grace L. Long Foundation. Each movement uses a different mandolin tuning:
I: E/G-D-A-E, II: G-C/D-G/A-E, III: G-C#/D-G/#A-D#/E (later, quarter-tones), IV: G-D-A-E.
Telegram to the President (1985) for string quartet and computer-generated tape ---5'
Telegram to the President is an epigrammatic work commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. It is in the form of a prelude, fugue, and coda. The prelude features the computer as an imaginary soloist, while the fugue focuses attention on the quartet.
Time and time again, I have found myself drawn to musical reflection on political and social issues. Telegram was written in bitter disappointment in the 1984 re-election of Ronald Reagan by a complacent American public. Yet, in contrast to this tone of indictment, the content of the telegram is a message of hope, a gentle faith in the continuing vitality of the grass roots American spirit. The text of the telegram, is taken from the 1933 poem of Langston Hughes: "Oh, let America be America again."
The computer part features an innovative plucked string synthesis technique developed by the composer in conjunction with Julius Smith, Kevin Karplus, and Alex Strong. It was realized at CCRMA, Stanford University using the Systems Concepts Digital Synthesizer.
AVAILABLE ON CD: The Jefferson String Quartet, CDCM Vol. 8
Bristlecone Concerto No. 2 (1984)a double concerto for violin, mandolin, chamber orch. (1111, 1110, hp., pno. perc.) and computer-generated and computer-processed tape ---18'
Bristlecone Concerto No. 2 was inspired by the ancient Bristlecone Pine trees of the White Mountains of California. Unlike their famous towering neighbors to the south, the Giant Sequoias, the Bristlecones are small and stunted, sculpted into weird gnarled shapes by eons of wind and harsh weather at their 12,000 foot elevation. The landscape at this place is almost lunar in its stark desolation. Carbon dating techniques have determined these trees to be among the oldest living things, some going back thousands of years.
In Bristlecone Concerto No. 2, I tried to suggest the peaceful quality of these ancient witnesses, but in the context of their harsh environment. The result is more pastoral than dramatic_or rather, the drama is that of the endless wind, incessant rain and the movement of glaciers. The violin and mandolin melodies were suggested by the shapes of the Bristlecone Pines themselves.
The piece is a double concerto, with the violin accompanied by an instrumental ensemble and the mandolin accompanied by an "ensemble" of computer-generated and -processed sound. These groups function antiphonally, in alternating tutti and solo sections. Gradually, the ensemble and computer sound becomes less and less prominent and the music is carried more and more by the soloists. Finally, the ensemble and computer sound stops entirely and the soloists play an energetic extended double cadenza. At the climactic ending of this solo, the ensemble and computer enter together, providing a gentle, calming effect on the soloists, and recapitulating the principal materials of the piece. After a short cadenza, in which any lingering energy is dissipated, the piece ends in stillness.
This piece was supported by a Composer's Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Agency.
Wanting the Impossible (echoes of Ives' Unanswered Question) (1984,revised 1990) for baritone and small orchestra (2121,2100, 2 perc., pno., strings) ---12'
The tone of "Wanting the Impossible" is one of unanswered questions, secret desires, and whimsical musings. The text is assembled from a variety of famous quotations dealing with the impossible.
The piece is based on a five-note theme from "The Unanswered Question" of Charles Ives. This theme is woven throughout the fabric of the music and is asserted particularly in percussion interludes. As in the classic Ives piece, highly contrasting irreconcilable stylistic elements are juxtaposed and combined without a clear "winner" emerging. These range from a distorted classical symphony to a demented march, from a sentimental waltz to a pastoral musette.
The form of the piece is static and symmetrical, helping to project the mood of idle fancy. The appearance of the "symphony" at the center of the work is a reminder of the goal-orientation that is the antithesis of Wanting the Impossible.
The text of the piece was assembled by the composer from fragments from Carl Sandburg, Tertullian, Leo Tolstoy, Lenin, Rudyard Kipling, Matthew Arnold and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Wanting the Impossible
Credo quia impossibile.
Pure. . .sorrow is as impossible as pure. . .joy.
The substitution of the proletarian for the bourgeois state is impossible without a violent revolution.
I am the Prophet of the Utterly Absurd, Of the Patently Impossible and Vain.
Still bent to make some port he knows not where, Still standing for some false impossible shore.
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
Bird Seasons (1984) for solo voices or chamber chorus (SATB) ---10'
Bird Seasons is in four movements, representing the four seasons from a "birds eye" view. As an avid bird watcher, I've admired these creatures who are so free in flight, yet so bound by instinct. The text is original except for that of the last movement, which is taken from the Bible.
The first movement, Winter Lullaby, is composed of owl calls. The "who cooks for you, who cooks for y'all" is a transliteration of the sound of the Barred Owl, a southern U.S. bird. The second movement, Love Song for Spring, is concerned with courting, mating and territoriality, with, possibly, an analog in human behavior. The third movement, Circle Dance for Summer, is wildly contrapuntal, with each voice having his or her own text and style. The soprano sings about flight as her voice swoops and dives; the alto recites bird species in the style of an auctioneer; the tenor chants and yodels latin scientific names; the bass explains nest-building techniques and behavior. The last movement, Autumn Meditation, is a serene contemplation of the mystery of migration and combines elements of the previous three movements.
Bristlecone Concerto No. 1 (1983) a concerto for violin and chamber orch. (1111, 1110, hp., pno. perc.) ---11'
Bristlecone Concerto No. 1 was inspired by the ancient Bristlecone Pine trees of the White Mountains of California. Unlike their famous towering neighbors to the south, the Giant Sequoias, the Bristlecones are small and stunted, sculpted into weird gnarled shapes by eons of wind and harsh weather at their 12,000 foot elevation. The landscape at this place is almost lunar in its stark desolation. Carbon dating techniques have determined these trees to be among the oldest living things, some going back thousands of years.
In Bristlecone Concerto No. 1, I tried to suggest the peaceful quality of these ancient witnesses, but in the context of their harsh environment. The result is more pastoral than dramatic_or rather, the drama is that of the endless wind, incessant rain and the movement of glaciers. The violin and mandolin melodies were suggested by the shapes of the Bristlecone Pines themselves.
The piece is a concerto for violin accompanied by an ensemble of 10 instruments. Gradually, the ensemble becomes less and less prominent and the music is carried more and more by the violinist. Finally, the ensemble stops entirely and the soloist plays an energetic extended cadenza. At the climactic ending of this solo, the ensemble enters, providing a gentle, calming effect on the soloist, and recapitulating the principal materials of the piece. After a short cadenza, in which any lingering energy is dissipated, the piece ends in stillness.
This piece was supported by a Composer's Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Agency.
Would You Just As Soon Sing As Make That Noise?! (1983) a double concerto for violin, mandolin and orchestra (1112, 1110, tenor banjo, 2 perc., hrp., pno., str.) ---18'
Would You Just as Soon Sing as Make That Noise!? (1983) is a celebration of rituals and cultures, both ancient and modern; a kaleidoscope of peoples who find themselves forced to coexist, to step on each other's toes, to clash and, eventually, to resemble one another. The title of is from the poem "The People, Yes" by Carl Sandburg. The piece is dedicated to Elon Berger, born January 28, 1983, as a way of saying good luck and welcome to a world where there are five hundred ways of saying "Who are you?" of asking, "Where do we go from here?" and of saying, "Being born is only the beginning."
The piece is in the form of a double concerto for violin, mandolin and small orchestra. It was commissioned by the Mostly Modern Orchestra and premiered by Laurie Steele. It has also been performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic under Lukas Foss.
String Quartet for Two Instruments (1982) for violin and viola ---12'
String Quartet for Two Instruments was written in 1983, during a visit to Jerusalem. The reason for this title is that for much of the piece, four distinct lines of counterpoint are played by the two instruments. The effect is to combine the richness of a string quartet sound with the precision of ensemble and virtuostic character of a duet.
The piece is based on an old Yiddish folk melody to which new words were written in 1942. This version, by Hirsch Glick, is entitled Shtill dee Nacht iz oys geshternt, which, loosely translated, goes as follows:
Silent, the night is full of stars and the frost is burning cold. Oh, do you remember? I taught you to hold a pistol in your hand.
A girl in a fur coat and a beret and you held a hand grenade a girl with eyes as soft as velvet and you blew up a Nazi convoy.
Silicon Valley Breakdown (1982) for four-channel computer-generated tape. ---20' Also, available in compact disc format.
SILICON VALLEY BREAKDOWN for computer-generated sound (1982) presents a symphony of imaginary plucked stringed instruments. This electronic orchestra---all sounds are entirely synthesized---is often divided into four smaller ensembles, each with its own tone quality and character. The recording is a stereo version of the original quadraphonic work.
The piece opens with bluegrass music pitted against opposing chromatic "abstract" material. Gradually, these two styles exchange attributes---the rock-solid rhythm of the bluegrass fractures, while the abstract material adopts country music harmony. The two eventually find a kind of resolution, fusing together into a single cohesive texture during the extended finale, then flying apart into opposite corners of the cosmos.
The title is a pun referring to classic bluegrass titles like "Shenandoah Valley Breakdown," as well as to the explosion of rhythmic complexity that characterizes the work. A FOONLY F-4 Computer controls musical timing in ways that would be nearly impossible with human instrumentalists. Custom simulation programs extend traditional contrapuntal imitation to produce "elastic canons", in which parts begin together, diverge in tempo and eventually find their way back into perfect synchronization.
The sound was synthesized by the giant Systems Concept Digital Synthesizer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University. This device models the physics of a plucked string, using a technique invented by Alex Strong, Kevin Karplus, David Jaffe and Julius Smith, and combines a variety of filtering and modulation methods to blur the dividing line between string resonance and reverberation, between instrument and space.
Since its premier at the 1983 Biennale in Venice, "Silicon Valley Breakdown" has been presented in over twenty countries on five continents. Jacques Lonchampt of Le Monde hailed it as a landmark of computer music.
Available on the CD XXIst century mandolin, acoustic and computer music by David A. Jaffe Allegro.
Three Musicians (after the Picasso paintings) (1981) for viola and guitar ---11'
Three Musicians for viola and guitar (1981), was inspired by the two Picasso paintings by that name, one hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the other in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of these paintings includes a dog.
The piece is in five movements. Each movement incorporates elements of a particular style of American folk music, although these styles are often abstracted to a bizarre extent. The styles are: old-time fiddle style, blues, bluegrass style, jazz and country music style. The movements are entitled:
1. "Fanfare for the First Musician" 2. "Philadelphia Version (with Dog)" 3. "Fanfare for the Second Musician" 4. "New York Version (without Dog)" 5. "Fanfare for the Third Musician and Dog"
Damp Nights in Drafty Motels (1981) for bassoon and string bass ---15'
Damp Nights In Drafty Motels for bassoon and bass (1981) is a piece to be played on the road (possibly in Bulgaria) and reflects on such a trip from both an objective and a subjective standpoint. It was commissioned by Julie Feves and premiered by her and Mel Graves in 1981.
The piece is in five movements: 1. Dawn in the New Land 2. Single Room, No TV 3. The Gig 4. Conversation with a Monument 5. Meanwhile, Above in the Marketplace
May All Your Children Be Acrobats (based on The People, Yes by Carl Sandburg) (1980) for mezzo-soprano, eight guitars, and computer-generated tape ---16'
May All Your Children Be Acrobats for eight guitars, soprano and computer-generated tape (1981) is a celebration of folk wisdom, as well as folly. Commissioned and premiered in 1980 by David Starobin and the Purchase Guitar Ensemble, it is based on a text excerpted from "The People, Yes" by Carl Sandburg and consists entirely of proverbs, sayings and anecdotes from the rich and varied backgrounds of immigrants, natives, fools and other Americans. Complementing this text is a heterogeneous music that draws on such styles as bluegrass, Irish, Jewish and African-American music, as well as American popular and European classical styles.
The computer part was created at the Stanford University Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It is entirely synthesized, yet often resembles voices and plucked strings, using techniques pioneered by the composer and others at Stanford University. These techniques, known as "waveguide physical modeling" have recently been adopted by the synthesizer industry and are considered an advance over more familiar techniques due to the enhanced degree of expression.
Dybbuk (1980) for A clarinet, two violins, viola, piano and optional offstage mandolin.---7'
A "dybbuk" is a kind of demon or spirit similar to those we meet every day except that dybbuks are from Eastern Europe and speak Yiddish. The piece is about the delicate balance between retaining a tie with one's cultural heritage and assimilating into the mainstream of the New World, a central issue facing immigrant Americans.
Dybbuk was commissioned and premiered by the Composer's Forum and Chamber Music Conference of the East at Bennington. The taped performance is from a concert at Stanford University by ALEAII. The piece has also been performed by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra chamber players, Vancouver New Music and other groups.
Generation Upon Generation (1980) for woodwind quintet.---16'
Generation Upon Generation for woodwind quintet (1980) is about the process of reproduction and evolution from the smallest to the largest level. The first movement, "Through the Microscope", describes this process on the cellular level. The second movement, "Through the Naked Eye," is a satirical look at the reproduction on a human scale. The third movement, "Through the 'Macroscope'," depicts the birth and death of stars and galaxies.
The piece was commissioned by the Composers Forum and Chamber Music Conference of the East at Bennington.
A Little Kid Sees a SkyScraper (1980) for two quarter-tone tuned guitars.---10'
A LITTLE KID SEES A SKYSCRAPER is based on daring and death-defying expeditions on the island of Manhattan taken by the composer and his father long ago. It is scored for two guitars, one tuned a quarter-tone below the other. Between the two, all twenty-four tones of the quarter-tone scale are available, opening a fresh, rich harmonic domain. The first and third movements explore quarter-tone harmony, while the second is primarily polyphonic.
Descent Into Flatland (1979) for brass quintet (2 Bb trpts. hn., trb., tuba).---9'
The title of Descent Into Flatland for brass quintet (1979) is a reference to the book "Flatland." Written by Edwin Abbott, a mathematician in the late 19th century, it describes the journey of a being from a two-dimensional realm into a world of three-dimensions. Then, by analogy, it suggests what a four-dimensional universe might be like. The book is also a satire of social order. A two-dimensional being's prestige increases with the number of sides it has: triangles are servants, squares are merchants, pentagons are priests, and so on.
I musically depicted Flatland with a combination of irreconcilable contrasts, satirical references, and broad expansive gestures. Several distinct musical characters are presented in both a soloistic and an ensemble context. Like the boundaries that separate the dimensions, these characters always remain distinct. They combine only by means of superimposition in the concluding bars of the piece, a passage suggesting the multi-dimensional complexity of life. _ David A. Jaffe
City Life (1979) for mandolin, guitar, 5-string banjo, and harpsichord.---6'
City Life (1979) is scored for an unusual ensemble of banjo, guitar, mandolin and harpsichord. Much of the material comes from the idioms of the five-string banjo. The piece expresses something of the frenetic pace of modern life.
Music For an Imaginary Wedding (1979) for mandolin, concertina, and cello.---6'
Music for an Imaginary Wedding for concertina, cello and mandolin (1978) was written for Barry Mitterhoff. It is a peaceful exploration of commonality, difference and of building bridges.
Celebration and Remembrance (1978) for ten flutes (3 picc., 4 flutes, 2 alto flutes, 1 bass flute).---6'
Celebration and Remembrance for ten flutes was commissioned by Sue Ann Kahn and the Bennington Summers Flute Workshop, 1978, and premiered at the farewell concert at the close of the workshop. Beginning with the opening sounds of a flutist warming-up, it recalls numerous moments from the workshop and, by extension, from the life of the flute and flutist. Themes from the flute literature appear in kaleidoscopic textures at a dizzying pace, as if emerging from a dream, or perhaps from a hall full of practice rooms. The piece concludes with a nostalgic goodbye song in the bass flute, in the style of a folk melody, representing the purity of tone and intention that is at the heart of the flute sound. The ultimate chords, composed of the basic harmonics of the flute, bring us back to nature and the "first principles" that made it all possible.
Cryptogram (1978) for small orchestra (1111, 1110, perc. hrp., pno., strings).---12'
In CRYPTOGRAM for orchestra is encoded the wisdom of the ages. But how to decode it?
Sunday at Bean Blossom (1978) for violin, harpsichord, mandolin, cello, percussion, and guitar---11'.
Sunday at Bean Blossom for cello, harpsichord, mandolin, violin, guitar and percussion is based on experiences playing at Bluegrass music festivals throughout the Southern U.S. The piece has three movements. The first, "Prelude˝Morning" depicts a misty Sunday morning "gospel hour", where the bands, still recovering from their Saturday night drunk, stumble out and try to have religion. The second, "The Festival" suggests something of the excitement of Bluegrass music, but abstracted and fractured in an Ivesian fashion. The final movement, "Postlude_Night" evokes a late evening in the campground. Distant strains of folk music blend into one another as we lay in our tent trying to sleep. Just when we've almost dozed off, a drunk fiddle player wanders by and plays an out of tune version of Red River
NOT LISTED: STUDENT COMPOSITIONS (1973-1978) _________________________________________________________________
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