Monday, May 18, 2009

A do-over on Les Murray's primitivist self-translation

I have been accused of always looking on the bright side when things don't go my way (often, after a fit of pique and whining), and why not? Every setback is an opportunity to set forth in a different direction, where the going might be better.

St. Louis composer and multi-instrumentalist Frank Heyer balked, respectfully, at the use I had made of one of his fretless guitar improvisations in our score to The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray. He said he thought we would be adding spoken word only, not singing, and that the singing we had added didn't jibe with the way he modulated keys in his composition.

I promptly offered to scratch what I had assembled and start over on that part of the score, and though that wasn't what he was demanding (he wasn't demanding anything), he seemed grateful when I finally convinced him it was perfectly fine with me to let him off the hook.

It makes for an amusing story, as well as a minor setback, because what Frank took to be "singing" was the poet himself making what he described as "mouth music".

Les' biographer, Peter F. Alexander at The University of Sydney, reacted with genuine shock when I told him I had recorded Les Murray making a kind of music with his mouth. Les has a reputation, which he created for himself, of possessing no musicality at all. He may or may not be right about that. His "mouth music" isn't an indication either way, but it is a marvelous reponse - indeed, a primitivist self-translation - of Les' great poem of modernity and vertical space.

Whenever I go back to the beginning on a piece of music based on improvisation, I always inspect my Another Umbrella archive gifted to us so generously by Richard Derrick of San Pedro. I have been going back through the 29-disc archive, thinking about this part of the score, to be titled "In ambigious battle at length".

I think this AU piece just might work. I pair it here with Les' mouth music. Mix them in your mind. What do you think - do these two things belongs together?

Free mp3s

"Frozen Moment"
(Richard Derrick, Paul Roessler)
Another Umbrella

Richard Derrick * guitar
Paul Roessler * keyboard
Recorded at KXLU (Los Angeles), 21 August 1988
Mixed at home (San Pedro), 3 October 2007
Medium: two-track open-reel (soundboard)

"Mouth music"
(Les Murray)
Les Murray

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