Interviewed by Barbara Golden on the train to Stuttart, West Germany, June, 1985
But you're leaving Germany, what are you coming away with? Was it a place to repose and do some music?
Yeah, I'd been in the Bay Area for, I don't know, three years or so, and one of the reasons I came there was to work with other people because I'd been in Tennessee and didn't really have many people to work with. I had one close friend, and we'd work together on music sometimes, but no other serious musicians whatever. So I worked very intensively in ensemble groups all the way from duets to the Rotaleague.*
*Rotaleague: Ensemble composition and performance group founded in 1982 by members Sam Ashley, K. Atchley, Ben Azarm, John Bischoff, Jay Cloidt, Barbara Golden, Jim Horton, Tim Perkis.
When I got here I was ready to work on some of the things I'd learned in the Bay Area, work on them by myself, and I had time to reflect on them and to integrate them in a more personal style. I've spent quite a lot of time here on Edison's Last Project(ion), writing the synopsis of the acts and composing the music. I've really been living with it. And I've worked very hard on electronics. I knew a little bit about computers, a little bit about basic hardware and software construction, but I've really learned a lot on my own this past year or so. I've had time to be alone and just wrestle with the technical books, and then I'd go out and buy the chips.
What was the piece I heard about that was bells in a stream?
Well, there's a piece, in German I call it Wasser Glocken, I guess in English you could just call it Water Chimes. It's a mechanical acoustic piece that uses the energy of the river to drive the instrument. I have a recording of the purely acoustic version, you hear the river and you hear the bells, but I also have designed electronics to go with it. I still have more design work to do, the river's not only driving the bells, but the bells are driving the computer to add melodic tones, it will all be blended. I'm interested in interfacing nature at large.
Your imagery, when you do visual things, involves cards now, how did that happen?
Ever since I was quite young I was interested in magic and I would buy magic books and I would put on magic performances for my brother and my parents. I would do card tricks and my grandfather would play poker and, I don't know, I was always sort of around cards, though I don't gamble and I'm not slick with cards or anything.
Another one of the things I would do when I was home sick in bed when I was young was I would try to design a card game. I never really came up with one until I got to California. It's maybe not exactly a card game, but in some of the printed pieces for Edison's Last Project(ion) there are coherent, cohesive groups of cards that have underlying connections.
Throughout what you do, and seemingly what you are, there is this mystical and meditative mysterious quality, even your imagery in titles, like the Angles series.
Yeah, I'm still working with the idea of angels. I don't know, there are certain kinds of questions I've asked. Again, since I was quite young, I had a very strong sense that the smallest act that an individual performs affects everything. I guess that's a mystical idea.
I think one thing that is in my music is that I'm very skeptical about words. I think that there's only a very limited amount that words can convey, and also, I think that it's a very worthy cause to try to convey as much as you can with them, but it's always limited. So I think there's a lot that is missed when people concentrate on the words and on the conversations. I think there's a lot of other communication going on . So, I use words but I try to use them as music. pp356-357
Introduction to EDISON'S LAST PROJECT(ION)
Edison's Last Project(ion) is an opera concerned with the presentation of four recurring dreams that began to appear to Thomas Alva Edison on the evening of August 1, 1931 and continued at intervals until his death, October 18, 1931. During these dreams Edison witnessed various projections and dialogues initiated by personalities: human (living, dead), and non-human. Aided by the use of curious machines and strange skills the characters transmitted to one another more than simple indications of their existence.
The exchanges included a variety of information including descriptions of their respective landscapes, physical laws, psychic characteristics and the extent of their connection with one another's worlds. On occasion the dreams included depictions of certain experiments conducted by Edison and his assistants: experiments involving electricity, precious metals, and the transmission of light, sound and other substances. Often the experiments were performed simultaneously with the central visionary scenes without affecting them; other times they not only influenced but completely absorbed the visions. p.359
The full staging of this work would include four vocalists, four actors/technicians, a string quartet, a sound synthesist, eight dancers, lighting and audio technicians. Necessary equipment/instruments would include one color video camera, three black and white video cameras, monitors, synthesizer, computerized tonal response system, prerecorded tapes and playing devices, sound amplifying and monitor equipment, a small laser projection system. I consider partial or concert version performances (without complete sets, lighting, etc.) as necessary to the compositional process. p.360
Introduction to LIGHT OF HAND (Lumiere de main)
In 1978 I composed a one-act opera titled Lolly . Through the music I gave voice to messages, predictions, and descriptions of an alien world from a "disembodied" personality.
I undertook a more formalized study of non-ordinary communication after moving to California in the fall of 1980. Using electromagnetic, image, sound, and text manipulations, I composed a series of communications with "Angels." I defined "Angel" as a patterning of information which implies or from which one may infer intelligence especially when encountered in supposed randomness or through a sequence of "coincidences." To me the most interesting "patterning of information" implied not only intelligence but also character.
The character of a woman seemed to be evoked by the 1980 composition Angel. The text was constructed of declarative and non-rational statements, in order to describe aspects of a character and a relationship. The presence of character in this work has been strong enough that listeners have continued to ask me to tell them more about the woman.
With (Light of Hand (Lumiere de Main) I sought to evoke a different sort of complex personality and its environment, in terms modeled on a deck of cards. The text was originally performed by four singers (K. Atchley, Ben Azarm, Laetitia de Compiegne, Theresa Whitehill). A computer controlled multiplexer allowed only one performer's voice to be heard by the audience at any one time. Through this rapid switching of voices, a single word of text might be articulated by three or four singers with each one contributing a syllable or smaller speech unit.
Thus I attempted to create a single "new" voice for the character that was defined and evoked by the text. I also constructed four cards which were reproduced and distributed among the audience. These cards contributed further details of qualities possessed by the character and environment. It was through the composition of a similar text and set of cards that the personalities, relationships, and settings of Edison's Last Project(ion) came to me. p. 380