Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Xenogenesis Suite

A Tribute to Octavia Butler



ARTIST: Nicole Mitchell

TITLE: Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler

CATALOUGE #: FH12-04-01-006


[For the spine, just Xenogenesis Suite, without the subtitle, and the whole thing on the cover]



Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble

Nicole Mitchell, flute

David Boykin, tenor sax

David Young, trumpet

Mankwe Ndosi, voice

Tomeka Reid, cello

Justin Dillard, piano

Josh Abrams, bass

Marcus Evans, drumset

Avreeayl Ra, percussion



1. Wonder – 4:56

2. Transition A – 5:54

3. Smell of Fear – 5:36

4. Sequence Shadows – 4:42

5. Oankali – 4:22

6. Adrenalin – 5:43

7. Transition C – 5:49

8. Before and After – 6:39

9. Dawn of a New Life – 7:01



All compositions, arrangements and lyrics by Nicole Mitchell. (Wheatgoddess Creations ASCAP)

Recorded June 20, 2007, at Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT.

Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Nick Lloyd.

Illustration by Megan Craig.

Design by Leslie Kuo.

Produced by Nicole Mitchell.

Co-produced by Taylor Ho Bynum and Nick Lloyd.





© (p) Firehouse 12 Records and Nicole Mitchell. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.



We give thanks to the Creator, our families, Taylor, Nick and Megan at Firehouse 12, Anthony Braxton, Patricia and William Parker, the Vision Festival staff and the Chicago Cultural Center, Mike Orlove and Carlos Tortolero. Special thanks to Nicole’s family: David Boykin and Aaya Samadhi. Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler premiered at Vision Festival XII in New York City, June 21 2007, and at the Chicago Cultural Center, December 7, 2007. It was created with support from Chamber Music America’s New Works: Creation and Presentation Program through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.



Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble

Black Unstoppable (Delmark) 2007

Hope, Future and Destiny (Dreamtime) 2004

Afrika Rising (Dreamtime) 2002

Vision Quest (Dreamtime) 2001

Indigo Trio, Indigo Trio Live in Montreal (Greenleaf) 2007

Anthony Braxton 12+1tet, 9 Composition (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12) 2007

Frequency, Frequency (Thrill Jockey) 2006

Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey) 2006

Hamid Drake, Bindu (Rogue Art) 2006

David Boykin Expanse, 47th Street Ghost (Dreamtime) 2004

David Boykin Expanse, Evidence of Life on Other Planets (Dreamtime) 2001



Megan illustration.

Firehouse 12 logo.



Fear and emotional instability are parts of the human journey toward transformation, perhaps starting with a newborn’s path down the birth canal into this world. Throughout the ages, countless people have been victimized by others, torn from the familiar and subjected to foreign ways of life. In these new places, no matter how frightening, people cannot live in a state of terror at every moment, so they learn to normalize and even find humor with their predicament in order to survive.


My fascination with the unsettling nature of Octavia Butler’s literary work led me to compose Xenogenenis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler. My compositional journey was stimulated by my emotional reaction to Butler’s novel Dawn, rather than the specific events of the story. Dawn intimately deals with the condition of fear and our ability to adapt in inhumane circumstances. The process of writing this music allowed me to face the feeling of fear head on—to enter and explore it.


Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler represents a new direction for my work as a composer. I purposefully rebelled from my natural attraction to certain compositional devices in an effort to discover new methods of stimulating human emotion. I created the instrumental music as the surrounding alien environment, and utilized the gifted voice of Mankwe Ndosi to portray the human element. Ndosi represents a sole human—a woman—in the midst of a wondrous and perhaps frightening landscape. Her voice characterizes what a person would feel alone in this situation: fear, wonder, exhaustion, sorrow, fury, and ultimately, intelligence as she begins to understand and adapt to this alien world.


On a personal note, I met Octavia Butler at Chicago State University’s Black Writers’ Conference in the fall of 2005. Having been a fan of her books since my teenage years, I found her presence to be as mystifying as her work. In February 2006 I submitted my proposal for Xenogenesis Suite to Chamber Music America and was shocked to discover that Butler suddenly transcended from this earthly realm the day after I dropped the proposal in the mail. Her unexpected passing further strengthened my determination to pursue this project with or without the commission, but you know the next chapter of this story.


Thanks Octavia, for all your inspiration.


Nicole Mitchell


TRACK NOTES: (written by Nicole M. Mitchell)

1. Wonder

In Wonder there is beauty, and in Wonder there is power. This power can be equally beautiful and horrific, echoing the power of humans who are so creative and yet so destructive to planet Earth and to ourselves. There is a Wonder to our intelligence to build societies, study and imitate nature through inventions, and a Wonder to our immaturity expressed in our inability hold life sacred.


2. Transition A

If everything you had known is no longer, and you were placed in a seamless space, what would you feel? The space breathes; you are in the belly of a monster. How would you find comfort in the unknown, knowing that your state of terror can only be temporary if you are to survive? The space breathes again, and you awaken. There is NO WAY OUT and NO WAY BACK TO WHAT YOU HAVE KNOWN. The only way to survive is to be Altered.


3. Smell of Fear

There is a smell of fear. A loud and indistinguishable smell that sticks to its victim. It is residue from the canal between LIFE and DEATH. When a person nears the death experience, through accident or tragedy, but is saved on the side of life, she survives with the residue, the smell of fear.



4. Sequence Shadows

You keep trying to wake from a dream, but the dream is of the past life. Now you have awakened and try to accept the alien environment that is around you. You have entered a new and strange realm. You awaken to sequence shadows; the eyes cannot grasp the horrific strangeness they see, so they see sequence shadows. The new reality dances a strange dance and the human must breath and accept this new vision to the eyes.


5. Oankali

The names of your caretakers on this new journey. Find humor in your capturers, identify with them, so you can save your mind.


6. Adrenalin

There’s nowhere to run—in a small space with no windows and no doors—but the mind…the mind can find a place. Every once in a while, the mind can search for an opening somewhere, for peace, for the return of memory, of familiar. Where is this place? It is in waterside walks with family, sunshine and good food. The Earth is dead. Only in the mind can this place survive. In our Dreams we will run there.


7. Transition C

Altered by the Unknown. Eventually, in your process of survival, you allow yourself to be altered, changed, IMPROVED by your new world.


8. Before and After

The possible Destruction of the Earth looms with humanity’s carelessness. We have a collective fear of an ultimate WAR and Environmental Crisis, which destroys the life we know and love. BEFORE the Destruction there were our busy lives. We were unaware and unappreciative of the simple things we loved. THEN, the Explosions, the War, the Catastrophe, the Sickness, the Suicide of humans. AFTER, there is Nothing—nothing that we know. There is Something—it is the Unknown.


9. Dawn of a New Life

There IS something After—the Dawn of a New Life. Only fragments of the past linger. Our memory altered, we are overwhelmed and interact with repulsive, but intriguing extraterrestrials. Together with them, we enter the Dawn of a New Life.



Adrenalin (track 6):

an opening

I need an opening

smooth flesh surrounding me

empathizing with warmth

there must be an opening

quick images flashing


in my mind

corridors, grass, sand anything

for running

scrambling questions

images in my mind

am I dead?

no opening

a corner a hallway

to escape somewhere

seamless space surrounding me

dimly lit hole


Before and After (track 8):
















Dawn of a New Life (track 9):

we collide

transformation looms

memories ripped and shredded for your greater pleasures

from different orbits, a rapture of fear and wonder

blood and consciousness mix with the infinite

carbon floats from boiling star

only desire for a future lingers on

hazy remnants of the past

intelligent creation buds

grey thoughts tinged with brightness of lasting hope


dawn of a new life