BRIEF REGARDS FOR SOMETIMES (2006)
2 VIOLINS, VIOLA, CELLO
WRITTEN FOR: FORMALIST QUARTET
PREMIERE: 2007-5-19 (LA JOLLA, CA)
LATEST PERFORMANCE: 2017-11-3 (CHICAGO, IL)
Brief Regards for Sometimes is a set of five short pieces from 2006, all using transcriptions of older music for string instruments. The titles are taken from a well-known Edison quote, spread throughout the five pieces:
II. Seeming to do...
IV. ...is not...
The first (Seeming...) is based on a late 19th-century homemade wax cylinder recording of "Professor MacLellan of Berkeley" playing an unknown fiddle tune, recently digitized by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive. The recording was made with Thomas Edison's cylinder phonograph technology. Using a recording attachment often sold with phonographs for home use, a blank wax cylinder was engraved with 2-3 minutes of sound in the form of tightly wound grooves. When a new recording was needed, the cylinder was simply smoothed down again, sometimes leaving faint traces of sound from previous recordings.
One sublime feature of "Professor MacLellan's" recording is the presence of audible noise — some produced by the incomplete erasure of previous recordings that left a sustained hiss on the fiddle tune, others produced by the heavy phonograph needle resting on the cylinder (spinning at 120 beats-per-minute) giving the recording a constant pulse of pops and clicks. This noise weaves in and out of the music, sometimes even masking the fiddle tune completely.
In Brief Regards for Sometimes, both MacLellan's fiddle tune and the accompanying noise are meticulously transcribed, fragmented, and arranged for an arpeggiated barriolage of natural harmonics that undulate between scratchy and piercing (when loud) or pure and glassy (when quiet).