Mary Jane Leach - Celestial Fires

Mary Jane Leach

Celestial Fires

In the late 1970's I was listening to a radio interview with Steve Reich, and a remark that he made stuck in my mind. It's gist was that composers couldn't rely on traditional venues and groups for performances, and that it was up to composers to arrange performances and/or perform themselves. About that time I was practicing playing or singing with tapes that I had made of myself performing. It had started out as an exercise in intonation, and ended up with a fascination for sound phenomena: difference, combination, and interference tones, especially with like or similar instruments. With Reich's advice in mind, along with my new interest in sound phenomena, as well as my interest in exploring the timbres of instruments, I began to write for instruments that I could play myself, primarily voice and bass clarinet. I originally wrote Green Mountain Madrigal, Ariel's Song, and Bruckstuck for myself to perform, using 8-track recordings, because 8-track recorders offered the most tracks readily available at that time. Once the New York Treble Singers began performing my pieces, I stayed with that format. This entire CD is made up of pieces for multiples, except for Trio for Duo, in which the voice part is written to sound like the alto flute.

Bruckstuck is a piece for eight sopranos that was commissioned by the Kulturamt in Koln to coincide with the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Jack Ox that were organized using an analysis of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony. I chose a ten measure section from the "Adagio" of Bruckner's Eighth as the source material for Bruckstuck. The lowest parts (relatively speaking, since all of the singers are sopranos) represent the string section, using the same basic rhythm and set up the tonality throughout the piece. The rest of the voices represent the wind instruments. The piece is polyphonic, with a lot of closely resolving intervals, primarily major and minor seconds. Rather than writing linear melodies for one voice, I wrote melodies that are passed from voice to voice.

Feu de Joie was written for bassoonist Shannon Peet and is an homage to the bassoon and its wonderful sound. I had been wanting to write for bassoon, but since my primary interest in writing is to hear what happens when notes are combined, I didn't want to write a solo piece for just one line of music, so I wrote Feu de ]oie for six taped bassoons and one live bassoon (the concert format). The six taped parts are equal and dependent, while the solo part is meant to be a solo with the tape as accompaniment. This is the first piece that 1 wrote for multiples in which I couldn't play the instrument; it is also the first piece I wrote using my computer. This is no coincidence; I was able to write very specifically for the bassoon's sound after I did a series of studies using a programmed bassoon sound that matched the real sound very closely, so I was able to hear what was going to happen without having a performer's specific knowledge. The taped bassoons combine to create a sound that exploits the unique qualities of the bassoon, creating combination and interference tones. I started with unison pitches that created the richest sound and built the piece from there. Most of the subsequent pitches and phrases that I wrote occured naturally before I notated them later on in the piece, and these in turn created others. So, in effect, the nature of the bassoon and its natural sound determined the direction of the piece. The solo part starts off by playing dissonant tones and then picks out notes that are being heard on the tape, continuing on to play a melody that "floats" above the taped bassoons.

Green Mountain Madrigal and Mountain Echoes are both for eight women's voices. They were inspired by and loosely based on a madrigal by Monteverdi, Lamento d'Ariana, using it as a source for pitch and syllables. I had always loved Monteverdi's close harmonies, the tension in them, and I wanted to extend them. Green Mountain Madrigal is Monteverdi with the sustaining pedal down. It is slow-paced, with the melody passing from voice to voice, the previous voice sustaining the "dissonant" interval, usually seconds. Mountain Echoes uses antiphony and a wider range of dynamics than Green Mountain Madrigal. After the initial section, in which the singers pass off the notes in decreasing volume, moving the sound around the space, it becomes more "singerly." Melodic phrases are passed from singer to singer in changing configurations.

Trio for Duo is for live and taped alto flute and voice, each part coming from four separate speakers placed in the fourcorners of the hall (the ideal situation in concert). Lines are passed from voice lo voice, weaving a tapestry of matching and contracting timbres. The voice in this piece is sung to sound as much like an alto flute as possible. By using glissandos, more "extra-notated" sounds were created than appear on the page.

Ariel's Song is an antiphonal piece for eight sopranos. Unfortunately, it is impossible to duplicate the full effect on CD. There are four upper and four lower parts. The upper parts usually move in clockwise patterns while the lower parts move in counterclock­wise patterns, and vice versa. The piece has sections of contrasting textures.

mary jane leach is a composer/performer originally from Vermont who has lived

in New York since (he mid-1970's. She lived in Cologne, Germany in 1989/90 as

Composer in Residence at Sankt Peter Koln, Her compositions have been performed in North America, Europe, Australia, South America, and Japan. The New York Treble Singers, Shannon Peet, Bel Canto, Relache, Bermuda Triangle, and Guy Klucevsek are among those who have performed her work. On the radio her music has been heard on NPR, CBC (Canada), Radio Bremen, and Westdeufscher Rundfunk. She is concerned with the total environment of a concert, visual as well as aural. Her works explore the physicality of sound, working very carefully with (he timbres of instruments, creating combination, difference, and interference tones. Space is also an important concern: how sound changes when it is moved around a room. She makes hand-painted slides that are shown in pairs, to make a continuously evolving configuration. The image on the cover is taken from one of her slides.

the new york treble singers, founded by Dr. Virginia Davidson in 1985, brings a fresh approach to ensemble singing, exploiting the crystalline beauty and tensile strength of professional female singers. No other professional choral ensemble is devoted to the vast repertoire of original music written for treble voices. The Treble Singers present music from all eras and have a formal place in their repertoire for American music. They also take special pleasure in presenting works written especially for their voices and regularly perform new works of contemporary composers such as Elaine Erickson, William Hawley, Mary Jane Leach, Otto Luening, Gregg Smith, and Louise Talma.

shannon peet, bassoon, is a critically acclaimed performer of contemporary music. She is a founding member and Artistic Director of Sound Pressure and 5th Species and a founding member of Hemispheres Orchestra. Heard frequently on CBC broadcasts, Ms. Peet has also performed and recorded solo works in New York, Montreal, Newfound-land, and Amsterdam. She has toured Europe and South America, and has performed frequently in festivals.

barbara held is a flutist and composer based in New York City and Barcelona. One of ". . . new music's most valued performers." (Village Voice) Her performances range from collaborations with visual artists and choreographers, and composers such as Yasunao Tone, Jin Hi Kirn, Nils Vigeland, Brenda Hutchinson, and Alvin Lucier. She has recorded for various American and European radio 'stations and has a CD of new music for solo flute on Lovely Music.