09 XI 17
on doleo æternus
When I first wrote the chords that now anchor Doleo Æternus, I never realized what a profoundly life-changing piece it would become.
The first true glimmers of Doleo Æternus came to me late in 2003 as a series of chords and a way of manipulating them using a computer. I gave names to the chords in Latin: Ira, Mador, Mæror, Doleo, Contemno, Adamo, and began work on what we were tentatively calling Anger. The computer would sample the performers' live sounds and play them back, looped, delayed, pitch shifted. I wanted to create a rhythmic, pulsing, hyper-melodic drone. Working with Ana Baer-Carrillo, a video-dance artist, and co-founder of Avant Media, we developed a concept for a massive installation-style performance. We wanted to create a monumental evening-length work that could be experienced, that the audience could immerse themselves into.
I finished the first MIDI version of the music on April 15th, 2004. I had attended the avant-premiere of La Monte Young's Rāga Sundara in Yaman Kalyan just a few weeks prior. It was a revelation, a profoundly moving and spiritual experience. With the majesty of that performance still fresh in my mind, I improvised on a little keyboard in the chords, and set to work on the computer aspect. I didn't yet know how to make the computer do what I needed, so I did it manually, loop by loop, in Pro Tools. In the summer of 2004, with the invaluable assistance of Stefan Tiedje at the Centre du Creation Musicale Iannis Xenakis in Paris, I completed the framework for the computer program that now powers performances.
Until January of 2007, the piece lay dormant, evolving, refining. The piece was in the back of my mind, but the music was front and center, always with me, always present. I used the chords to create new works: 2005's Two Sides (available on my album, Voices + Sine Waves) based on the Contemno chord; Separate Haven for violin and electronics, based on the Doleo chord, which premiered in various guises with the Kim Olson / Sweetedge dance company from late 2005 until the full-length world premiere on August 24, 2006; and most importantly, Aqua Madora for sine waves and just intonation piano, based on the Mador chord, which received its world premiere in Colorado on June 6, 2006, and a major, updated avant-premiere on May 2, 2008 in New York City. The other major factors that Separate Haven and Aqua Madora have in common is that they are both in just intonation, something that, at this point, Anger still was not. I had begun to incorporate elements of rāga into my compositions. The score for Separate Haven includes many rules about approach to pitches, specific motifs that are to be used, etc. and Aqua Madora includes a fully fleshed out Alap section that makes up the first 8 minutes of the piece. Both of these pieces represent the profound influence that studying rāga with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela has had on me.
By the time we actually premiered Anger, on January 25, 2007 in New York, the piece had come to what seemed like its zenith. With videos created by Ana Baer-Carrillo, a series of sculptures created by Alicia Wargo, video typography created by Oscar Henriquez and the formidable performance talents of Laine Rettmer and Mike Rugnetta, we presented an evening that would set into motion an unexpected, and entirely delightful, series of decisions that lead me to this piece you hear tonight.
Shortly after the premiere of Anger I began to think about what the piece needed to make it something truly profound. I was very happy with the performance of Anger, but I knew the piece could be so much more. I was getting to a place with my use of Just Intonation where Equal Temperament was beginning to sound "out of tune" to me, and I thought of ways to bring the Anger chords into just intonation. In December of 2008, we presented a shortened version of the piece under the new title of Doleo Æternus as a part of the ISIM festival in Denver. The moments of Anger that worked the best were those where melody made its way front and center into the dense droning textures that characterized that performance. I was working on how to bring my rāga experiences into this piece, and the major improvement in the ISIM version was the inclusion of an underlying melodic and rhythmic structure for the last three chords. A single melody in a twelve beat cycle over which the soloists would improvise. Because this performance was happening with the Denver based Playground Ensemble, and rehearsal with them was going to be short to non-existant, the piece stayed in equal temperament and the ensemble was devoted to playing this melody and setting up the rhythmic cycle. However, before the performance even happened I began to become disenchanted with equal temperament for this piece. A number of possible tunings had been bouncing around in my head, focused mostly only how the minor second would be defined, and immediately after the ISIM peformance i worked diligently on getting these chords into tune. I had had a revelation that the key to the tuning was the pure 5ths in the piece. Rather than focusing on determining the dissonance of the minor second, I focused on the consonance of the 5th, and the tuning quickly revealed itself to me. The ISIM performance really served as a bridge between what began as Anger and what is now Doleo Æternus.
With the tuning codified (It is based largely on stacked pure 5ths with a hint of the pure 7th harmonic as resonant and sparesely used tones), and the melodic structure improved (it is now a 36 beat cycle, allowing the refrain to come around more slowly, and giving the melody the ability to be more harmonically specific), I set to work on truly defining this piece as a rāga would be defined.
I have not set out to write a piece in a specific rāga, although the scale (or Thaat) could be classified as Bhairavi, and certain motifs or structures are reminiscent of Malkauns or Gunkali (both pentatonic rāgas). Doleo Æternus is its own creation, a full work which includes all of those parameters that make a rāga a rāga. We have Vadi and Sam Vadi notes, characteristic ascending and descending scales, characteristic melodic patterns, motifs, even a short Drut that comes near the end of the piece. The performers are all aware of these elements, and use them during their improvisations. There is additional specificity that is worked into the piece, such as secondary focus notes, textural or drone elements, and ways to harmonize the melody.
Through a long rehearsal process with these talented and incredibly individual performers, I have been able to reach a very high level of specificity for this performance. Each of the performers knows their role well and is able to bring their own unique voice and talents to their part. The varied backgrounds of the performers brings a rich tapestry of traditions into the fold of this piece.
The question I ask myself most frequently in my work is "is it necessary?" and if it's not, I get rid of it. Through the many incarnations of this piece I have worked to get at the heart of what this music means for me. The chord progression, the computer program, the rāga definition, the tuning, the video; these are the elements that are necessary, critical, defining. Tonight's performance is the beginning of a journey. These chords have been with me for a long time; they feel eternal, timeless, boundless. With the incredible dedication of the ensemble, several of whom have been performing my work for many years, several of whom I'm working with for the first time, I have been able to allow Doleo Æternus the time it needs to evolve into not just the longest piece of music I've written, but also the most important.