"Blue" Gene Tyranny: Take Your Time


Take Your Time

“Take your time” is what I kept saying to myself throughout the recording session.

A year had passed since I had played most of these pieces, but I was hoping like always that new musical gestures would appear spontaneously as the music unfolded. That faith relies on a built-in sense which pays attention to the unique “logic” inherent in sounds, and to the sensations they evoke, things which can never be notated. The paper notations on the music stand were only there to provide structured material to start this journey going. It’s a curious process to first focus on and articulate a unique interesting idea or emotional experience, then rehearse it and/or write it down sometimes over weeks or months or years until you get it right, only to free the original experience to play to the air, so to speak, in a performance that has the same openness as before the piece was created.

The studio space was roomy but insulated and isolated. Even though the majority of these pieces had been played previously before concert hall-sized audiences, the best approach here was to totally embrace the intimacy of this situation, rather than risk playing some awkward practical joke on my psyche by trying to recreate a concert situation.

Time, presence, and the feeling of meaning are generated differently in each piece on this CD.

(1)   Song No. 1, “Reset,” from The Driver’s Son, take one (1992 / 2002) (8:22)

(2)   Remember to Say This (2002) (0:38)

(3)   The Drifter, free reading (1994) (7:40)

(4)   A Letter from Home, the harmonic branching (1976 / 2002) (9:33)

(5)   Wish I Had Said This (l’esprit de l’escalier) (2002) (0:40)

(6)   Song No. 1, from The Driver’s Son, take two (1992 / 2002) (7:18)

(7)   Meditation: Nothing’s Changed, Everything’s Changed, realization for electromagnetically-stimulated piano (1961 / 2002) (9:17)

(8)   Study for Song No. 34, “Empathy,” from The Driver’s Son (2001) (6:49)

(9)   Spirit, for computer-edited harmonics and piano (1996) (7:10)

Songs from The Driver’s Son

Thirty-five of the 36 Songs in this “audio storyboard” are individually built around an atmospheric primary chord, counter-rhythms, and a body of notes which creates a potential melody that unfolds bit by bit. Each Song is partnered with a recurring (reconsidered) Subject: Alternate World History, The Brain Speech, Life Is Like A . . .,Lightning, The Maps, A Slow Analysis of the Scene, The Permanent Mirage, The Movies / Interrupted Destiny, Supersenses 1 & 2, UFO / Hope and Premonitions, The Car Speech, The Markers 1–5, The Knight’s Move, Magic Numbers, The Music Lesson, Hitchhiker / Identity, Highway / Types of Time, Free Advice, (Caught in a) Chain of Events / The Six Poisons, The Minor Miracle, etc.

Song No. 1, presented in two different takes here, contains all of the basic 36 chords and serves as the “reset” point, a kind of spiritual home base, an “abiding place which has no location” (to paraphrase a Buddhist text).

The Driver’s Son is scored for a narrator, a chorus of 5 people creating 15 voices, and an electronically-modified orchestra of folk and concert instruments. Laid out in 30 scenes (e.g. “The De-Certified Highway of Dreams”, “The Man Who Was Struck By Lightning”, “Sleeping Beauty in Camouflage”) and 6 interludes with two wrap-around electronic pieces called “Aurora Borealis” and “Aurora Australis”, this audio storyboard can be realized in many linear and non-linear (causal and dreamlike time) formats: concerted opera, CD-ROM, radio play with music, book with randomly-accessed recording, walk-through installation, etc.

The Drifter

Composed for pianist Joseph Kubera, this piece was inspired by a description of the megaliths near Lake Pang-gong in Tibet. The purpose of these structures remains unknown. I imagined an unnamed wanderer moving among these quartz pillars of mysterious origin which are laid out in 18 rows, with circles of stones at the ends of each row. The form of this ancient structure is imitated in the music by 5-note chords arranged in 3-pair sets in 3 sections, each section a transformation of the previous one, for a total of 18 chords. The “free reading” heard here is based on material from two of the three contrapuntal layers.

A Letter From Home

This “procedural score” has parts for spoken voice, sampling chorus, melody, counter-rhythms, and branching harmonies (i.e., one progression is re-heard on progressively remoter harmonic roots), all of which may be combined in any way or performed independently.

The original text, written in the lighthearted style of a series of letters from an unnamed friend to the composer, discusses the development of consciousness over time: (1) over thousands of years (influenced by the work of Julian Jaynes), (2) within a person’s lifetime from childhood to adult perceptions and illusions (influenced by the work of Jean Piaget and others), and (3) at micro-levels. An echoing chorus samples parts of the narrator’s text and “sets them to music”. There are jokes about playing in bands, about not being able to get a tune out of your head, about illusions like the clock which seems to slow down or speed up depending on your mood at work, and so on. (Conquering civilizations and other bosses have always imposed their own time-keeping methods in the forms of calendars, observances, punch clocks, speed, etc.) The Doppler Effect is used in the text and the music as a metaphor for the emergence of consciousness.

There have been several realizations of this score: a tableau vivant staging (kitchen scene, sitting on a ranch fence, etc.) with music by the Otrabanda theatre company (1986); a trio version (vertical scan compression) for piano, marimba and vibraphone (1991); a kind of rock version for piano and two electric guitars playing the “current rhythm” and “accumulating rhythm” parts (1991); the “branching harmonics” were played live in the dance improvisation “Long and Dream” with Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton (1996); this same “chart” was realized as a piano duo (with Nurit Tilles) in a call-and-response style entitled “Approximately A Letter” (1999), and was the wellspring of the piano solo heard here. Currently, a computer-driven “flash” version of the original recording is in progress.

Meditation: Nothing’s Changed, Everything’s Changed

If you would, please imagine the sun gradually changing position on any day as it visually re-defines through illumination and shadow the physically unchanged woods, hills, and manmade structures you know are there.

Then imagine returning to your home town after many years and experiencing the slight shock as what you remember (for example, the faces of dear friends) contrasts with what is there now (he’s really changed, but she looks exactly the same!).

In the conceptual examples above, a fixed memory encounters an alternate perception. (My friend composer Robert Ashley once counseled me, “If you’re confused that just means you’re learning something”.) That common experience is the basis for this piece.

The graphic score, notated on five open staves, Isolated single notes and note aggregations that are occasionally joined by dotted and solid lines suggesting directionality and connection. The tones may be played in any order but the momentary gesture they form is repeated at least once. With each repetition (re-scanning, re-consideration), there is an imaginary or auditory “reference point” (e.g., a movable clef, or the drone heard in this performance) that is moved and causes one aspect of the gesture to change - either the pitch, emphasis, speed, or timbre; but the rhythmic form of the gesture remains the same (“nothing’s changed”).

Since 1961, I have had a similar same-thing-only-different relationship with this piece, and throughout the years have provided additional methods for realizing a performance from the score. There was an open version for chamber orchestra (1963), the premiere conducted by Bob James at one of the legendary ONCE Festivals in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the interactions between the performers left free. In a realization for piano, marimba and vibraphone (1991), the material was scanned in fixed impulses and translated into standard notation. The realization for electro-magnetically stimulated piano (1993) heard here employs feedback circuit devices, designed by composer David Meschter, that initiate subtle sustaining tones when placed on the strings


The slowly appearing, ethereal sounds in this piece are “artificial harmonics” that resonate high in the piano strings when one chord is silently depressed and another chord of the same form but a half-step lower is loudly struck and quickly released. 36 of these, interlaced with 36 “natural harmonics”, were recorded and then the initial loud attack was removed with computer editing. This procedure left a bed of subtle, non-corporeal sounds that seem to lie on the surface of the strings like a cloud, and allowed listeners to hear sounds that normally are only perceived by the pianist sitting a few feet away from the strings.

Commissioned by pianist Sara Cahill for a festival honoring the innovative American composer Henry Cowell, this 7-minute composition modifies and extends a technique for producing artificial harmonics mentioned briefly in Cowell’s New Music Resources.

In live performance, the pianist improvises melodic gestures using the composed “artificial” scales upon which the 72 chords are based. Surprising coincidences often occur between the melodic gestures and the harmonics which, fading away at their natural individual rates, create a sequence of unpredictable entrances.

The overall effect is a floating spectrum of moods (the harmonics) that are approached from changing perspectives (the scales). With the third element of silence, the sense of presence or “spirit” is felt.

Remember To Say This

Wish I Had Said This (l’esprit de l’escalier)

These two brief inserts, in the tradition of the musical joke, describe before and after thoughts which always get me into trouble (in conversation, in improvisation), but which are also good practice for examining the ghosts of mentation.

Executive Producer, Tom Buckner
Produced by Tom Hamilton
Recorded by Tom Hamilton at Systems 2, Brooklyn, NY

Special thanks to Christopher Berg for rescuing the score of Meditation, Jonathan Doff for his inspiring advice and text quotation, and Tom Hamilton for his excellent recording, editing, and production.

CD mastered by Tom Hamilton

Art Direction and Design: By Design

Copyright © 2003 “Blue” Gene Tyranny
© P 2003 Lovely Music, Ltd.
All rights reserved.

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