I’m a huge fan of John Ashbery’s poetry so when I discovered what seemed to be his Twitter account I was happy to be signing up for a daily dose of his strange and enigmatic poetry. The tweets were so good that I was also inclined to set one of them to music. On February 4, 2017 at 11:27am @AshberyEbooks sent out the tweet, “Anyway, where threads go. It all goes well”. I felt this text was beautifully ambiguous in its potential meaning. The text was also a perfect metaphor for my creative process which usually involves freely weaving together different kinds of musical “threads”. Often I find that these musical threads truly can go in any direction and it all does seem to go well (assuming the piece gets finished). As I was finishing up the composition I began to grow suspicious of the Ashbery account. It seemed to send out tweets every hour or so, even late into the night. I did a little further research. As it turns out @AshberyEbooks is not John Ashbery. The account is not even a living person. It is, in reality, a Twitter bot. This means some clever computer programmer designed an algorithm to spit out text in the style of the beloved poet. Rather than being horrified by this discovery I was delighted by this fact. I also welcome all the various implications one can draw from the situation of non-humans writing poetry for living humans to ponder. And pondering is encouraged in my piece. The text is also set to music in a reflective and meditative way. The words themselves are deconstructed into their constituent parts. The small bits of language playfully melt into the piano’s sounds and there is sometimes a sense of a new language emerging. Perhaps it is fitting that a robot poet spurred such an entropic mutation to take place. I just hope that Mr. Ashbery also feels that the all has gone well.
Lucy Dhegrae, voice
Nathaniel LaNasa, piano
May 25, 2017
Church of the Intercession
“Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World” is from the philosopher Gilles Deleuze in reference to Heinrich Von Kleist. I’ve taken it to be an affirmation of what creativity is all about and it’s what the artist should do when they create a work of art. What would be the point of bringing something too comprehensible and pre-packaged into the world? You can do it, but I think that’s boring. Don’t make boring work! Rather make something that pushes your mind and body and make something that creates new sensations and movements. Maybe you’ll even have a new idea happen too. I prefer the scramble the mind has when it encounters a work of art as opposed to some kind of serenity and sedation that comes about from a unified experience. In Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World the trumpet and voice are in a playful dialogue. The text is presented in fragments. The fragments are made of single words or just syllabic sounds. I found breaking the text up into smaller sounding parts allowed me greater flexibility when writing the piece and ultimately allowed for a more free-spirited approach. The arrangement of the vocal sounds sometimes imply new words and phrases. Often the trumpet and the voice blend together to create what I call a “dirty unison”. I imagined the sounds of the words themselves being “smeared” by the trumpet’s sounds. I think the interaction between the voice and the trumpet implies a kind a hybrid instrument or a mutant offspring that is the combination of the trumpet and the human voice. The piece is written for and dedicated to Andy Kozar and Corrine Byrne.
At the age of 83 Beckett wrote his last poem “What is the Word”. The poem was dedicated to a friend who was suffering from aphasia – a language disorder that includes losing the ability to speak, read, or write.
The text bears the marks of struggle and exhaustion. The words stutter forward and appear without context. The poem lacks a coherent subject (there is an obvious absence of any personal pronouns). As the work proceeds the sounds of the individual words become more and more apparent. The materiality of each word becomes exposed and we might even want to call them sound-objects rather than words. Yet despite the lack of cohesion we still feel the text expresses some kind of personal suffering. And rather than peter out the poem grows more aggressive as it moves forward. The words, acting as sound objects, perhaps communicate something else; what is lacking in concrete meaning is made up for in the vivaciousness of the rhythm that is present. There is perhaps a primordial will to life heard in the rhythm of the words, a struggle pushing ahead in the face of meaninglessness. The situation is both tragic and comic, or as with many of Beckett’s texts, a tragicomic.
This unidentifiable place in between suffering and the will to live compelled me to set the text. My setting of the poem is in three sections. The first section attempts to be a “musical reading” of the entire text, word for word, with no extra repetition of words other than what is presented in the poem. The second section playfully explores the text and various vowel sounds constituting the words. The final section is a further breakdown and explosion of the language into both instrumental and vocal sounds.
The failure of Beckett’s text to produce meaning can be read as bleak and depressing, but I tend to read it the opposite way. Beckett’s text is untethered from having to mean anything – I find this liberating. I hope my setting of the text presents both the power of the poem and possible modes of communication when meaning is unbound.
There is a light seed grain inside.
You fill it with yourself, or it dies.
This performance; Mary Bonhag (sop), Lembit Beecher (pno), Karen Ouzounian (vc), Evan Premo (cb)