Full Spectrum Voice
Works by Ashley, Gibson, Vigeland, Gena, Lockwood, Mitchell
 Odalisque (9:40)
Tony Barrero, trumpet
Jon Gibson, clarinet/flute
J.D. Parran, bass clarinet
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, synthesizer
Joseph Kubera, piano
Tom Hamilton, synthesizer
Michael Pugliese, timpani
 Rainforest/Brazil (He Was Not Disappointed) (12:39)
(From the music theater work VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE by Jon Gibson and JoAnne Akalaitis.)
Jon Gibson, wooden flute
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, synthesizer
Joseph Kubera, piano
Michael Pugliese, percussion
With a collage of taped rainforest sounds from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.
 March, Hymn and Waltz (5:55)
Joseph Kubera, piano
 Mother Jones (9:45)
Joseph Kubera, piano
Night and Fog
 1921 (9:21)
 The Visitor (1979) (6:11)
 1923 (4:05)
Michael Pugliese, percussion
J.D. Parran, baritone saxophone
 because it's (2:26)
 this (5:08)
 dim (5:25)
Joseph Kubera, piano
* * *
For twenty-five years, the experimental composers of Manhattan's vital downtown scene have been the primary interpreters of their own music. Recently, however, a number of expert performers have begun championing them, and no vocalist has given them more of his time and talent than Tom Buckner. The composers on this CD, a varied cross-section of new music circa 1990, are all close to that experimental scene, and this disc represents a small part of what Buckner has done to create and sustain a vocal new-music tradition in New York.
Robert Ashley, one of New York music's guiding spirits, first gained fame at Ann Arbor and Mills College among the conceptualist/multimedia composers of the '60s, but he's one of the few of that generation whose importance has grown with each passing decade. The latest in a line of opera composers (Monteverdi, Gluck, Wagner, Partch) to reinvent musical speech, Ashley inherited the shards of the multimedia genre and fused them into what postmodern theorist Arthur Sabatini has termed the "performance novel", the stage narrative carried multilinearly by speech, song, video, and rhythmic structure. Ashley's trilogy consisting of Perfect Lives, Atalanta (Acts of God), and Now Eleanor's Idea is probably the most influential music/theater/literary work of the 1980's.
Odalisque is a chamber arrangement of the opening, similarly-named aria from the "Max" section of Atalanta (in reference to the surrealist painter Max Ernst, revived as one of the heroine's suitors). Atalanta picks up centuries later the Greek myth of the woman who could run faster than any man, now reclining in the oda, the inner sanctum of a harem. Over a musical passage played twice (with timpani rumbling ominously in this chamber context), the narrator recounts, in the Italian of the original production, Atalanta's position of having to choose a husband. The closing stanza refers to Aphrodite's turning Atalanta into a leopard in the ancient belief that that animal could not reproduce its kind. Ashley leaves aspects of the vocal part unnotated in order to "allow the singer the greatest possible freedom to interpret the sounds of the words of the text according to the singer's vocal style", and the music's character has been largely conditioned by Buckner's creativity.
Jon Gibson, widely known as a performer on flute and saxophone with the Philip Glass Ensemble, is a composer, performer and visual artist active in new music since the 1960s. The underlying assumptions of Gibson's music are minimalist, but his timbral conception is far richer, rougher, and softer-edged than the style he's been associated with. His environmental-noise tapes and birdlike wooden flute evoke verdant landscapes, and it's easy to hear what attracted him to Charles Darwin's description of untouched Brazilian rainforest: Darwin celebrated the same lush overgrowth of natural forms that Gibson aims for in his music. Darwin's words are sung over a shimmering piano continuum of stacked fifths, though arguably the center of interest lies in Gibson's own arabesque improvisations. Gibson's love of nature revives 19th-century romanticism in a postminimal, natural-sound context. "The most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence," sings the soloist, "pervades the shady parts of the wood," and Rainforest/Brazil is a heartfelt plea for more shady parts.
Romantic, too, is Nils Vigeland's March, Hymn, and Waltz – at least outwardly. The piano solo March may look like one on paper, but its delicate elaboration of a motive (B G B C) acknowledges no barlines. Vigeland was associated, as student and performer, with the late Morton Feldman, and the elegant Feldman-like craftsmanship of Vigeland's metric shifts lifts the piece above the title's homely genres. The Hymn and Waltz set poems nos. XV and II from James Joyce's Chamber Music. "From dewy dreams, my soul, arise" is sung in stanzas that alter rhythm while preserving melodic shape, and the waltz takes its parlor-style 9/8 meter from Joyce's lines: "The old piano plays an air/Sedate and slow and gay." Dissonance in the enigmatic coda comes from layering the key areas of the march, hymn, and waltz: G, E-flat, and B respectively. Joyce draws quiet images with apparent effortlessness, and Vigeland's gentle counterpoint, more complex than it first sounds, matches them perfectly.
Peter Gena may be called the Chicago branch of the downtown New York scene. Another former Feldman student, he is one of the pioneers of postminimalism, a style which has carried the repetitions and tonality of minimalism into a new concern with form. Of Gena's works with political overtones, none is more overt than Mother Jones, based on a folksong (stated in the work's center) lamenting the death of the fearless union organizer Mary Jones. Jones (1830-1930) fought for the rights of coal miners, whose simple but relentless lives are suggested by the energy of the singer's wordless vocalise, the C-major-pure tonality, and the rough conflict of B and C in the bass. As with Feldman's reiterations, the repetitions are not free as to number, but carefully calculated. The best efforts in Gena's music are the surprise texture changes with which he releases the tension wound up by repetition; here, such a moment comes in the sudden rise into heavenly treble chords as the folksong begins, a stunning contrast.
Like Gibson, Annea Lockwood loves environmental sound, and much of her music is conceptual. But in Night and Fog (based on poems by Osip Mandelstam and Carolyn Forche) we hear how much her concern for natural timbres shapes even her conventionally notated music. The swelling piano notes with which the first song begins are "bowed" by drawing a string beneath the piano strings. In the second song the percussionist plays patterns on two flat stones, the singer whistles, and the saxophonist plays the rims of wine glasses with wettened fingers. The slow pulsation of breathing is everywhere, and Lockwood pays careful attention to which sounds are miked and which aren't.
The final song rolls a glass jar up and down the piano strings, and climaxes with savage patterns beat on the cross beams with yarn mallets. Only one line appears from Mandelstam's The Age, but the galloping 15/8 meter, together with the baritone's gonglike chanting, convey the poet's bitter image of his century as "an animal that could run once,/staring at his own tracks." The song cycle genre that Night and Fog inhabits may be conventional, but the piece is permeated with the earthy aesthetic of a woman who once began a tone poem with an amplified cat's purr, and who made a tape symphony from sounds of the Hudson River.
Those who know Roscoe Mitchell's deliriously original work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago will find his songs "because it's," "this," and "dim" another new vein. Of all the composers who have treated e.e. cummings's work, probably no other has done so in such a brooding, tempestuous fashion, and Mitchell isn't shy abut reinterpreting the poems through text repetition and re-emphasis. The anguished diminished-seventh chords that color "because it's" throw the poem's emotional weight, not on the evocation of spring, but on the romance implied in the final words. "this" proceeds in stately augmented triads, while the rhapsodic piano figures of "dim" polarize around a G-to-G-flat clash that draws out the poem's latent loneliness and alienation. Mitchell has been incorporating Buckner's voice into his non-jazz improvisations for many years, and this cycle is one more step in a continuing and fruitful collaboration.
— Kyle Gann
Kyle Gann is a downtown composer, new-music critic for the Village Voice, and author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Excelsior).
One of the most satisfying aspects of singing contemporary music is the opportunity to collaborate with composers in the preparation of their work for performance. The six composers represented on this recording have all been generous in sharing their creative energy with me. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. Thanks also to Joseph Kubera, my long-time accompanist and a major interpreter of new music for piano for his unstinting dedication.
— Thomas Buckner
THOMAS BUCKNER, a baritone with a wide range of experience in a variety of musical genres, is best known for his collaborations with contemporary composers and improvisors. In association with composer Robert Ashley, he has performed as a lead singer in the opera ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD), which toured throughout Europe and the United States and was recorded on Lovely Music, Ltd. He currently tours with MY BROTHER CALLED, part of the opera EL AFICIONADO, which was written for him by Robert Ashley. Buckner works regularly in the Roscoe Mitchell New Chamber Ensemble, and in the trio SPACE with Mitchell and Gerald Oshita. His singing has been recorded on 1750 Arch, Musical Heritage, Black Saint, Wave, Nonesuch/Elektra labels and Lovely Music.
In Berkeley, California, Buckner founded 1750 Arch Concerts, which presented over 100 events a year for eight years, and 1750 Arch Records, which released over 50 record albums. He was vocal soloist and co-director of the 23 piece Arch Ensemble, which performed and recorded the work of 20th Century masters and premiered many works by American composers. Since 1989, he has curated the World Music Institute's "Interpretations" series at Merkin Concert Hall in New York.
by Robert Ashley
We found this case in connection with a single woman of high family and low taste.
THAT SHOWS SOMETHING.
Her grandmother disapproved.
THEY ALWAYS DO.
But that didn't stop her.
IT ALL COMES TO NO GOOD.
The father's family is said to be to blame.
IF THAT'S IMPORTANT.
They were in architecture.
Which is evidently respectable.
But artistic, nevertheless.
THIS IS A CLASSIC CASE.
A woman is known to excel above all others.
She excels even among men.
YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, SILENTLY, HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE.
Thus, the beginning is less than propitious.
We are fascinated with the idea of achievement.
IDEAS HAVE BEEN THE DOWNFALL OF MORE THAN ONE MAN.
Achievement in extraordinary circumstances.
We are unable to distinguish between the two.
To distinguish between...
And its circumstances.
In the beginning it seems hopeless.
So many men have tried.
So manny men have failed.
THERE MUST BE SOMETHING GOING ON THAT WE DON'T SEE.
On the other hand, there have been times of visionaries.
THIS IS THE YEAR OF THE BIG RACE.
BY BIG WE MEAN BIG.
The prize is inestimable.
BY RACE WE MEAN RACE.
The loser loses all.
So, the story is characteristic of that time.
That time was a time of visionaries.
And we are fascinated by relative position.
ELSE, HOW COULD WE KNOW WHERE WE ARE?
Relative position means that one thing is ahead of another.
Let us consider the circumstances.
Keep in mind that in our circumstances we seek achievement.
Our circumstances require achievement of us.
It is almost as if we are called to the race.
It is almost as if we have no choice.
Let us try to learn something from our predicament.
BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
Let us speak in simple terms.
Look at the evidence.
She excels even among men, I said.
And she is called to choose among men.
Who knows why?
BUT, THAT IS ANOTHER QUESTION, THEN.
THAT QUESTION WILL BE ANSWERED LATER.
She is called upon to choose among men.
The choice is dangerous, without doubt.
ELSE, THERE WOULD BE NO CHOICE.
Imagine yourself ion her situation.
A LIFETIME IS AT STAKE.
Convenience is a meaningless thing at this moment.
Ease is a meaningless thing at this moment.
Imagine, then, that she chooses among us.
What has any of us to offer her?
Imagine that she chooses the most ordinary among us.
Imagine that she chooses as we would choose.
You must have lost your mind.
THE LEOPARD HAS
But in the Leopard there is no beginning.
Copyright © 1984 Robert Ashley. Text reprinted by permission.
Rainforest/Brazil (He was not disappointed)
by Jon Gibson
The day has passed delightfully. Delight is, however, a weak term for such transports of pleasure. I have been wandering by myself in a Brazilian forest. Amongst the multitude it is hard to say what set of objects is most striking. The general luxuriance of the vegetation bears the victory. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end. The most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud that in the evening it can be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore. Yet within the recesses of the forest a universal stillness appears to reign. The delight I feel bewilders the mind. If my eye tries to follow the flight of a gaudy butterfly, it is arrested by a strange tree of fruit. If watching an insect, one forgets it in the strange flower it is crawling over. If turning to admire the splendor of the scenery, it fixes the attention. No one can stand these solitudes unmoved and not feel that there is more to man than mere breath. The mind is a chaos of delight out of which a world of future and more quiet pleasure will arise. To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it pleasure more acute than he ever may again experience.
Text by Charles Darwin. Reprinted from THE BEAGLE RECORD, published by the Cambridge University Press.
MARCH, HYMN AND WALTZ
by Nils Vigeland
From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,
From love's deep slumber and from death,
For lo! the trees are full of sighs
Whose leaves the morn admonisheth.
Eastward the gradual dawn prevails
Where softly burning fires appear,
Making to tremble all those veils
Of grey and golden gossamer.
While sweetly, gently, secretly,
The flow'ry bells of morn are stirred
And the wise choirs of faery
Begin (innumerous!) to be heard.
The twilight turns from amethyst
To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with its pale green glow
The trees of the avenue.
The old piano plays an air,
Sedate and slow and gay;
She bends upon the yellow keys,
Her head inclines this way.
Shy thoughts and grave wide eyes and hands
That wander as they list —
The twilight turns to darker blue
With lights of amethyst.
Text by James Joyce from CHAMBER MUSIC. Used by permission of the Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of James Joyce.
by Peter Gena
The world is slowly mourning the death of Mother Jones;
Grief and sorrow hover around the miners' homes.
This grand old champion of labor has gone to a better land,
But the hard working miners, they miss her guiding hand.
With a spirit strong and fearless, she hated that which was wrong;
She never gave up fighting until her breath was gone.
May the workers all get together to carry out her plan,
And bring back better conditions for every laboring man.
The title refers to the ballad, The Death of Mother Jones. For the original music and words see Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, SONGS OF WORK AND PROTEST, NYC: Dover Books, 1973.
Night and Fog
for Tom Buckner
by Annea Lockwood
* Night and Fog was the Nazi name (Nacht und Nebel) for their program for political prisoners; they stamped its initials, "N & N" on uniforms, broke down victims with "cat and mouse" torture and called them "the already dead."
"I was washing outside in the darkness"
I was washing outside in the darkness,
the sky burning with rough stars,
and the starlight, salt on an axe-blade.
The cold overflows the barrel.
The gate's locked,
the land's grim as its conscience.
I don't think they'll find the new weaving,
finer than truth, anywhere.
Star-salt is melting in the barrel,
icy water is turning blacker,
death's growing purer, misfortune saltier,
the earth's moving nearer to truth and to dread.
-- Osip Mandelstam (1921)
In Spanish he whispers there is no time left.
It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat,
the ache of some field song in Salvador.
The wind along the prison, cautious
as Francisco's hands on the inside, touching
the walls as he walks, it is his wife's breath
slipping into his cell each night while he
imagines his hand to be hers. It is a small country.
There is nothing one man will not do to another.
-- Carolyn Forche (1979)
My animal, my age, who will ever be able
to look into your eyes?
Who will ever glue back together the vertebrae
of two centuries with his blood?
Blood the maker gushes
from the throats of the things of earth.
Already the hanger-on is trembling
on the sills of days to come.
Blood the maker gushes
from the throats of the things of earth
and flings onto a beach like a burning fish
a hot sand of sea-bones,
and down from the high bird-net,
out of the wet blocks of sky
it pours, pours, heedlessly
over your death wound.
Only a metal the flute has melted
will link up the strings of days
until a time is torn out of jail
and the world starts new.
The age is rocking the wave
with human grief
to a golden beat, and an adder
is breathing in time with it in the grass.
The buds will go on swelling,
the rush of green will explode,
but your spine has been shattered,
my splendid derelict, my age.
Cruel and feeble, you'll look back
with the smile of a half-wit:
an animal that could run once,
staring at his own tracks.
-- Osip Mandelstam (1923)
"I was washing outside in the darkness" and "The Age" are used with permission of Atheneum Publishers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Company, from OSIP MANDELSTAM: SELECTED POEMS, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 1973 by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin.
"The Visitor" from THE COUNTRY BETWEEN US by Carolyn Forche. Copyright © 1981 by Carolyn Forche. Reprinted by arrangement with the Virginia Barber Literary Agency, Inc. All rights reserved.
three songs with lyrics by e.e. cummings
dare to do people
the other way
Lives lead their own
is that you &
i are more than you
e It's we)
er than est
more than life
must die to
e this park is e
e except me 6 e
utumn & t
"because it's," "this," and "dim" from Complete Poems, 1913-1962, by E.E. Cummings, are used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1925, 1931, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1961, 1963, 1968 by Marion Morehouse Cummings.
Produced by Tim Martyn
Balance Engineers: Rob Rapley & James McLean
Digital Editing: Rob Rapley
Recorded in Merkin Concert Hall/Classic Sound, NYC
Art Direction: Patrick Vitacco, By Design
Photograph by Jack Mitchell
Copyright © 1987 Jon Gibson (BMI)
Copyright © 1977 Nils Vigeland (BMI)
Copyright © 1983 Peter Gena (BMI)
Copyright © 1987 Annea Lockwood (BMI)
Copyright © 1986 (dim) & 1989 (because it's & this) Roscoe Mitchell (ASCAP)
Copyright © 1984 Robert Ashley (BMI)
© & P 1991 Lovely Music, Ltd.
LCD 3021 [D] [D] [D]