Anasazi is a name used to describe an ancient Native American people who disappeared long before the Europeans arrived in America. Although the name “Ancient Puebloans” is now prefered to describe this culture, I have chosen to use Anasazi because of its brevity and recognizability. The music was composed for a ballet dance which describes the last Anasazi rite. There are 6 parts: The Rite at Mesa Verde, the Star Kachina (God of cataclysms), Tlaloc (God of everything’s growth), Centipedes (creatures from the underground), Kachinas (Spirit beings between life and death), Kokopelli (fertility deity).
After an initial Anasazi reunion begins the ceremony where they invoke their pantheon in the Mesa Verde site just before their last breath, which happens in the end of Kachinas’s “Taalawsohu’s Dance.” The Dance marks the Anasazi’s life transition to the fifth world (the Taalawsohu). In the end there are no living Anasazi anymore, but Kokopelli appears from afar (like in their old paintings) playing his flute and keeping the mystery around the possible Anasazi offspring.
The music is completely composed on a theme of 4 notes (representing the “Four Corners”) and one variant, both of which are shown simultaneously at the beginning of the piece. Every musical measure is related to these notes all the time in at least one of the basic forms (normal, inverted, retrograde, inverted and retrograde, augmented or diminished).
The Delayed Man
For the concert, Nebula asked us to imagine a Renaissance composer teleported to contemporary Colorado. My imaginary composer stumbled into the strange, yet comforting confines of a recording studio. There a friendly engineer gave our composer a mic plugged into a delay unit. That perfect echo was entrancing. It facilitated familiar ideas like imitative counterpoint, dense texture, and an almost procedural approach, but it also opened up new possibilities and imposed new challenges. The composer recalled a very familiar melody, “L’homme arme” (from which the new piece received its title) and began writing for four musicians who were drawn into the studio by the composer’s experiments.
The piece explores delay’s possibilities in four sections. In the first section, the delay is used to create a hocketed version of the melody from harmonies played the ensemble. In the second section, the imitative possibilities of the delay serve as the primary subject. The third section switches to a slap-back delay giving the ensemble a new density and rhythmic push in Renaissance-inspired setting of the melody for all four instruments. For the fourth section, the original delay parameters return, but now the ensemble plays “L’homme arme” in a hocketed fashion while the resulting delays form a separate, second voice intertwining with them.
John Dowland, Renaissance lutenist and composer, finding himself transported through time and space to a fiesta in the American Southwest, comes upon a grizzled old guitarist dashing off bits of tremolo for a small circle of onlookers. A couple of dancers appear, and the guitarist strums a few bars of a traditional dance in the age-old sesquialtera (6/8 versus 3⁄4) rhythm, intimately familiar to Dowland from the dances of his own time. Seeing the stranger’s ears perk up, he winks, tosses him the guitar, and motions for him to play something. The Renaissance composer spends a moment finding his way around the tuning of this strangely shaped lute missing half its strings, then improvises a strange and colorful bit of dance himself. Not to be outdone, the old maestro abruptly snatches the guitar back and proceeds to display an even more brilliant passage of tremolo. The two musicians continue in dueling fashion for several rounds, reaching ever higher peaks of emotion and virtuosity, until finally Dowland receives a flash of inspiration for a new piece. The strains of the fiesta fade into the background as Dowland, back at his desk in old England, puts the finishing touches on his Pueblo Galliard. Just then, a messenger from the Earl of Essex arrives…
!Qué descansada vida
la del que huye el mundanal ruïdo
y singue la escondida
senda por donde han ido
los pocas sabios que en el mundo han sido!
– Daniel Wilson
Written for Nebula Ensemble, in pace is an attempt to obtain a feeling of tranquility while also looking back to and deconstructing Orlande de Lassus’ motet for three voices of the same name. Throughout in pace, elements from the Lassus, such as harmonies, imitation, and vowels from the text (the last two verses from psalm 4), emerge as individual objects that are manipulated and distorted by various textures.
The first section of in pace explores the harmonic material of the Lassus motet, specifically that which is used in his setting of the first verse of text. The flute, clarinet, and bassoon play these harmonies in a shimmering texture, while the trumpet plays a cantus firmus-like melody reminiscent of each singer’s entrance in the Lassus. Following this opening section, the textures that had previously formed the harmonies from the Lassus now begin to overwhelm the material – harmonies are placed out of order, occasionally on top of each other, and are used more sparingly. These manipulations of Lassus’s harmonic material continue until the motet is whittled down to several of its smallest elements, namely the sonorities of F-major and B-flat major. In addition to these sonorities, following the dissolution of the Lassus, there is an emphasis on the overtones of a low Bb (up to the 14th partial, rounded to the nearest sixth-tone). In the stillest moments of in pace, the texture disappears, and the listener is left with only these partials.
Many of the textures that recur throughout in pace allude to the imitative entrances in Lassus’ motet, such as those found at “in pace,” “quoniam,” and “constituisti,” where Lassus has the three singers alternating between the different pitches of the harmonies. Another recurring texture in in pace is created by the instrumentalists alternating between rapidly tapping on the mechanisms of the instruments and blowing air through their instruments while mouthing certain phonemes (which are taken from the text of the Lassus motet).
The piece concludes with a two-part coda that is a final reflection on three elements of the Lassus: harmony, texture, and text. The coda begins with only the texture of phonemes and key-clicks and gives way to a section that simultaneously states the sonorities of F-major and B-flat major in a texture reminiscent of the opening of the piece.
The prerecorded tracks (two wind trios) are used to reinforce the textures and to create a thick blanket of sound to envelop the ensemble and listener in the feeling of peace and, at certain points, in the feeling of its absence.