Conlon Nancarrow arr J Poke – Study #2b
John Godfrey – Gallows Hill
Yannis Kyriakides – Blindspot
Richard Craig – Chook:
Mrs B’s Love Triangle
Tango to the Death
In Memoriam Brutus (the Thai Curry)
The little-known and extremely short Study #2b was unheard for decades until Nancarrow re-discovered it and included it on the Wergo set of recordings. Completely unconnected to Study #2, 2b was probably punched onto piano roll in about 1950 but has earlier origins: it is based on the last movement of the Piece for Chamber Orchestra no. 1, which had at that time not yet been performed. As such it is in fact the earliest material in any of the studies.
The study departs from the orchestral version by thinning out a lot of the material, which would be too complex for the single timbre of a piano, and also by adding a new ending. The study has never been written down in score form, so I have transcribed it from a computer version of the piano roll.
I wrote Gallows Hill while on Sabbatical Leave from my University in 2001. I was in Sydney, where the weather is warm, the people are wonderful and the food is the best in the world! And it might therefore strike you as odd that this is a very dark piece…
I had started it a long time previously, and at that time I had been affected by two things: the crash of the Concorde and a strange event that took place in the UK at around the same time. A paper there – the News of the World, I think it was – decided unilaterally to print the names and addresses of known paedophiles. These guys were on the Sex Offenders Register, and so were already known to the police and had served their punishments. Nonetheless, vigilante groups decided they needed to be punished again, and so there happened a long sequence of attacks, slanders, violence and mob-rule that was quite extraordinary. But, as always happens in situations like this, hysteria and stupidity were the names of the game. These mobs didn’t just attack the people who had been identified, but those with similar names or addresses, those that looked slightly odd and those with professions that sounded a bit suspicious (such as paediatricians).
I don’t know if you saw film of the Concorde crash, but what you can see is that one wing appears to catch fire, and the airplane then gradually tips up into a steeper and steeper climb, until it tips too far and falls to the ground. It struck me that those on board must have known for quite some time they were about to die. Now suppose that this is about to happen to you, not because of some unfortunate coincidence like that, nor an illness or old age, but because of the belligerent stupidity of those around you. How would it feel to be put to death for reasons you could not understand, or – worse – knew were ludicrous? The sacrifice of hostages held in Iraq is a good contemporary example, as is the slaughter of helpless civilians who got in the way between Bush and whatever it was he thought he was going to get by invading Iraq.
Gallows Hill refers to the place where the Salem ‘witches’ were executed: these women, who had done nothing more than exist, were sacrificed for immensely stupid reasons assembled of mindless superstition and hysteria. And they knew it! So there you go. That’s a cheery thought for the evening…
Gallows Hill was commissioned by Bang On A Can, New York, with funds made available by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Mark two crosses on a piece of paper about one and a half to two inches apart (example below). Close your right eye and hold the piece of paper a couple of feet in front of you. Whilst looking at the right hand cross move the paper slowly towards yourself until the left hand cross disappears. You have now found your blind spot! Doing this with loved ones can be dangerous.
Blindspot was written in 1991 for Icebreaker.
chook n. (sl.) 1. n. young bird, esp. of domestic fowl; (flesh of) domestic fowl as food ….
I. Chook – in which we meet all the chooks; Billy the Chook, Spot the Chook, Maureen & Doreen, Mrs. B, Brutus and Willy the Cock.
II. Mrs. B’s Love Triangle – in which Brutus and Willy the Cock vie for the amorous attention of Mrs. B.
III. Tango to the Death – in which Brutus and Willy the Cock decide the world is not big enough for both of them. Willy the Cock prevails …
IV. In Memoriam Brutus (the Thai curry) – in which Brutus serves a higher purpose.