FOLK MUSIC is a suite of three works detailing differing centers of the word folk and how a personal approach to music making can create layers of meaning into a work. Two of these works contain an element of theater: the cassette recorder played in Year of the Snake, or the whiskey bottle in The Moon Shows No Light, something that is new to these works and takes them out of the purely musical realm.
Year of the Snake refers to the Chinese Zodiac. My son, Tommy, was born in 2013, the year of the snake. Coincidentally, the year I was born (1977) was also the year of the snake, as the signs of the zodiac go in 12-year cycles. One interesting difference is that my snake is a fire sign whereas Tommy’s is a water sign. Though I have no astrological bent, this created a nice frame. For this piece, I devised two tuning systems for the guitar. Each of us (yes, Tommy played the guitar!) performed using one of the guitar tunings: one for fire (DADF#AD) and the other for water (EBC#G#BE). Along with recorded ambience from his room and my studio, the recordings were then chopped, looped and randomized into a 4-track cassette recorder, then mixed to cassette.
Pete Seeger in Monte Carlo has an obvious reference to the great folk singer Pete Seeger. This piece, and the title, was set in motion before his passing in January 2014 so I hope this piece serves as fitting farewell. The second half of the title refers to the Monte Carlo method, a set of computational algorithms that rely on random sampling. The RAND Corporation developed a book of random digits to facilitate the sampling. Per the book Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson (which I heartily recommend), this method, developed by Stanislaus Ulam, was utilized in work on the atomic and hydrogen bombs. This piece then attempts to fuse the protest power of folk music (and the banjo) with this seemingly benign book of random digits. The performer uses the random digits to create an abstract piece of music, a new 21st Century folk music.
The Moon Shows No Light focuses on the music of Ireland, a part of my ethnic heritage. Using the John Cage-style of erasing pre-existing melodic material, I took a book of Irish folk songs and created the piece. I have also been interested in Irish playwrights and how many of the plays of Ireland are set in bars and pubs. Alcohol is omnipresent. The bottle of whiskey in this performance is a nod to this tradition.