seven players (fl+a.fl, b.cl, perc., p.no, vln, vla, vc) and electronics
Red Light New Music
Symphony Space on October 3, 2011, Ted Hearne, conductor
Dreams are the genus; nightmares the species.
—J.L. Borges, ‘Nightmares’
I met the night mare.
— William Shakespeare (attributed by J.L. Borges)
Nightmares have long inspired artists to embrace the surreal, the disorderly, the senseless—that nebulous yet recognizable concept known as “the unconscious.” When I came across “Nightmares,” a short lecture by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, I was intrigued by his sharply contrasting view of nightmares. Borges accepts that nightmares are a chaotic flash of surreal images remembered from our waking hours, but what was important—artistically—to him was the act of remembering a nightmare—the story that our waking mind only later concocts, with a beginning, middle, and ending.
In my own The Night Mare, the opening sounds are half-remembered sonic fragments of my daily ritual: breathing, noisy clicks, the drone of an idling train. As the piece progresses, these elements are organized into more recognizable and familiar musical elements: first harmonies, then a haunting, recurring melody that forms in the piano and is coated in a hazy texture by the ensemble. The electronics (which are all derived from a field recording of a train) emphasize the blurred lines between the heard and half-heard (what is a train, and what is a flute?) until the work blooms into fully realized musical textures in which all of these elements finally cohere—if only for a moment.
At that moment of coherence, there is a short and sudden shift. Much the way sounds of waking life enter the end of our dreams, this new element jolts the piece into another climax: an abrupt awakening.
The Night Mare is dedicated to my friend and teacher Ingram Marshall, whose straightforward and effective use of electronics inspired me to explore that field in the first place.