PROGRAM NOTES FOR DRESHER C.D. DARK BLUE CIRCUMSTANCE VERSION 1/16/92
Double Ikat (1988-90) for violin, piano and percussion
For several years, William Winant had been pestering me to write a piece for a trio of Bay Area musicians he was working with, but while interested in theory, I was preoccupied with my work in music theater and it wasn't until I saw the Trio perform Lou Harrison's Varied Trio at his 70th birthday concert that I was truly inspired to create a work for Willie, David Abel and Julie Steinberg.
The opportunity came in 1988 when I was commissioned by choreographer Brenda Way and her company ODC San Francisco to compose a score for their new work, Loose the Thread, whose imagery was based on material drawn from the lives of the people in the Bloomsbury Group. I took the opportunity to compose a work for both the dance and the trio. The version that resulted took its form largely from the dance and so in 1989, I took the material from that work and recomposed and edited it into an entirely different form, strictly as a concert work.
The title refers to a style of weaving common in South East Asia in which both the threads of the warp and weave are dyed to create the pattern or image. For me, the title thus relates to the interrelationships of the three instruments and to the title of the choreographic work from which it sprang. I wish to thank Brenda Way for creating much of the atmosphere which infuses the work; Lou Harrison for providing the inspiration to create my most blatantly lyrical work to date; and Willie, Julie, and David for working closely with me throughout the composition, rehearsal, revision and recording of the piece. The last section of Part Two of the work is an homage to Nikhil Banerjee, one of the finest musicians of this century, who died at far too early an age in 1986.
Dark Blue Circumstance (1982-87) for electric guitar and live tape processing
Dark Blue Circumstance was first performed in the Fall of 1982 and was premiered at the New Performance Gallery in San Francisco on Dec. 10, 1982.
I subsequently performed the work regularly as part of my solo performance program many dozens of times after its premier through 1987, when work with my music theater ensemble became the primary focus of my performances. During that time it continually evolved, as is typical of works I compose for myself, and arrived at its final form in this recording, made in early 1987.
The work is performed on an elaborate tape loop system which is an instrument which allows live multi-track recording, mixing, processing and immediate playback of any sounds produced by the performer(s). It was designed and built by Paul Tydelski and me in 1979 and consists of a 4 channel tape machine with 3 playback heads located at various points in the path of a single loop, the duration of which is variable by controlling the tape speed. Record/play functions and the mixing and routing of all sounds are controlled by the performer with an array of foot pedals and switches, thus leaving the performer's hands free to play their instrument without interruption. This instrument was my principal performing tool for most of the 1980's and was integral to many compositions, both for me as a soloist as well as for ensemble music and theater performances and purely tape compositions.
The work arose while also composing the score for the music theater collaboration, are are, by the George Coates Performance Works of which I was a member at the time. As a result, it exists in two forms, one for solo guitar only and the second (at a substantially slower tempo) in its theatrical version as the overture and first scene of are are, for electric guitar and two tenors, John Duykers and Rinde Eckert. In fact, the alternating slow melodic lines in the first half of the work were originally conceived as two tenor parts.
Channels Passing (1981-82) for flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, violin and cello
Channels Passing took its present form in the Fall of 1981 and winter of 1982 as a result of a commission from Nancy Karp and Dancers for their work PASSING BY. The work was conceived to function both in choreographic and purely musical contexts and the nature of Nancy's and my interaction concerned primarily the number of sections, their general lengths and tempos, and to a certain extent the density and activity in each section.
Originally the work was conceived to be a study for a large scale variation set I intended to compose. In fact, the original title for the work was the extraordinarily unoriginal name "Study for Variations." But as the work developed it became clear that this piece was able to encompass and explore the issues I wanted to deal with in the intended larger work. The only permutation of the work which subsequently evolved is a version, done in 1984, for 13 instruments. Because much of the composition is organized around an exploration of how the ear processes different timbres, I am currently (in early 1993) planning yet another version for a mixed electro-acoustic ensemble.
The title is a reference both to Nancy Karp's dance and to the psychoacoustic phenomena known as "channeling or "streaming" (with which much of the work, particularly sections 1 and 3, is concerned) in which the listener breaks up what may be a single melodic entity (or an overlapping of two melodies in a single register) into two or more groups, usually based on register, timbre, and rhythm. My interest in this and much of my understanding of this phenomena owes a great debt to composer/teacher Robert Erickson and his own study/composition LOOPS.
NIGHT SONGS (1979-81) for soprano, two tenors, flute, trombone, percussion, two pianos and contrabass
NIGHT SONGS was composed between the Spring of 1979 and the Winter of 1981 in San Diego, Cazadero, CA, London, and Seattle. It was commissioned by John Duykers and Janice Giteck for their then current ensemble, the New Port Costa Players. The work was scored for the instrumentation of the ensemble at that time. As the ensemble included several fine voices and I had not previously composed much for voice, it was an easy decision to make this primarily a vocal work.
By the time the work was finished, John Duykers had become Chairman of the Music Dept at the Cornish Institute and the core of the group had moved to Seattle and formed the New Performance Group. The work was premiered in the spring of 1981 and it was in this context that I first met and worked with my longtime collaborator Rinde Eckert.
The text, which was the first part to be "composed", was assembled from several short, almost haiku-like poems or songs from various Native American Indian groups, with the exception of one each from Africa and Polynesia.
I have long been deeply affected by the brevity and intensity of the images in these poems/songs and I felt that these qualities made them particularly powerful in a musical context. These various individual poem/songs were selected and assembled into a text which follows an arch form in several of the image streams, earth-heaven-earth, sunset-darkness-dawn, waking-sleeping/dreaming-waking, I (solitary)-we (unity/expansion)-I (alone).
I have been rather free in the handling of these texts, both in the assembling (pre-musical) phase and in their various transformations in the musical environment, one of my primary goals in the work being to integrate text into musical processes and to manipulate the text via the same or related techniques by which the strictly musical materials were being transformed and developed. Thus the text one hears at any given moment may be somewhat different from the printed text and this variance will be the result of some transformational or recombinant process.
For example, the line "in the heavens a noise like rustling trees" transforms into "from the North a wind comes to get me" via a process of simple word substitutions which yields a sequence of intermediary lines such as "in the heavens a noise comes rustling me"or "in the North a wind comes rustling me."
In the "Dream Music" section the performers may substitute words of similar function (i.e. verb, noun, adjective) selected from other portions of the text such that "I feel the summer in the Spring" might become "I search the heavens in the wind" or "I dream the moonlight in the Spring."
The music on this recording was composed over a span of over ten years. During this time many friends' ideas, generosity, support and tolerance have had a profound affect upon my work and life. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank composer and teachers Lou Harrison and Robert Erickson, sitarist/teacher Nikhil Banerjee, and friends and colleagues Rinde Eckert, Jay Cloidt, John Duykers, Kay Norton, and my wife and producer Robin Kirck.
Paul Dresher is pursuing musical interests in many media, including experimental opera and music theater, chamber and orchestral compositions, live instrumental electric music performances and electro-acoustic taped scores for theater, dance, video, radio and film. His performances utilize progressive contemporary music technology and the theatrical works use the resources of experimental theater to examine diverse issues in contemporary American culture.
As Artistic Director of the Paul Dresher Ensemble, he has guided the creation of the "American Trilogy", a set of music theater works which address different facets of American culture, in collaboration with writer/performer Rinde Eckert. The trilogy began with SLOW FIRE (1985-88), developed with POWER FAILURE (1988-89) and was completed in 1990 with PIONEER, a collaboration that includes visual artist Terry Allen, actress Jo Harvey Allen, tenor John Duykers and director Robert Woodruff.
His commissions have included works for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA, Kronos String Quartet, the San Francisco Symphony, Walker Arts Center, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, University of Iowa, and the American Music Theater Festival. He has collaborated with directors Robert Woodruff, George Coates, Richard E.T. White and Tom O'Horgan. He has performed or had his works performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Venues have included the Munich State Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Festival d'Automne in Paris, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, the Minnesota Opera, the Cal Arts Festival, and New Music America in 1981, '83, '85, '88 and '89.
Recordings of his solo performance and chamber works have been released on the Lovely Music, Music and Arts, New Albion labels. Opposites Attract, his collaboration with multi-woodwind performer Ned Rothenberg, was released by New World Records in 1991 and Minmax Music released SLOW FIRE in 1992.
Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Dresher received his B.A. in Music from U.C. Berkeley in 1977 and an M.A. in Composition from U.C. San Diego in 1979, where he studied with Robert Erickson, Bernard Rands, Roger Reynolds and Pauline Oliveros. He has also pursued a serious interest in non-western music through the study of Ghanaian drumming, Javanese and Balinese Gamelan and North Indian classical music.