America

I grew up in a post-industrial city where the landscape was marked by endless strip malls and gas stations. But even within this nihilistic and vapid landscape I developed a sense of hope for our ability to overcome negative spaces with art and the power of creating something beautiful. America, for solo cello, is an energetic and tightly structured piece that explores timbre, virtuosity and differential repetition. The music’s “glitchy” feeling is created by a perpetual 7 against 3 rhythm which dominates the texture along with the use of micro-meters (3/32 and 1/16) and rapid timbral shifts. I composed the piece by exploring the timbral shifts that take place when playing the same pitch on different strings. Playing techniques of sul tasto, flautando, sul pont, and pizzicato create a continuum of tonal color which add to the stream of perpetual variation. Harmonically the piece is based around a very narrow range of pitches, just a small cluster, c-c#,d-d#. This cluster is explored in various playing positions on the cello and in the attempt to create overlap and sustain between the notes of the cluster there is a kind of acrobatic choreography that takes place as the cellist jumps from low to high positions on the fingerboard. The work was constructed in a Cagian way. I’d write a bar or two and email the manuscript to John Popham. John would record the music on his cell phone and email the fragment back to me. I collected these fragments over the course of 2 years. Our original plan was to keep our email/fragments process going until America (the country) collapsed but instead we opted to just complete the work since we figured the world might end before the country does.

This performance: John Popham, cello