Premiere of Book. Chair. Table. at CORE V: In Transformation

I’ve been working on a collaborative piece with new media artist Ellen Moffat for the past number of months and am very excited to announce the premiere this November 7 & 8.

Book. Chair. Table. is a three-movement work based on three poems from Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons. I’ve been calling it a new media chamber music theatre piece. I’ve written the music for voice, oboe, double bass, and new electronic instruments. Ellen Moffat has created new electronic instruments which integrate amplified sound, recorded texts, and video projection.


Book. Chair. Table. will be performed by Lia Pas on voice, Erin Brophey on oboe, Richard Carnegie on double bass, and Ellen Moffat on electronic instruments.

Book. Chair. Table. was composed with the support of a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board.

CORE Series V – In Transformation
Friday, 7 November 2014 – 7-11pm – buy tickets here
Saturday, 8 November 2014 – 7-11pm – buy tickets here
Tickets $15.00
at PAVED Arts (424 20th Street West, Saskatoon)

***These performances consistently sell out so please get your tickets quickly!***

A bit more about the piece:

Late in 2012, Ellen Moffat asked me and Saskatoon actor Rob Benz to record three poems by Gertrude Stein from Stein’s book of prose poems, Tender Buttons. I’ve always loved the rhythms and repetitions of Stein’s poetry and was very happy to work with Ellen on one of her projects. Ellen used the recordings in a collaboration with an actor/dancer in Vancouver and when she returned asked me if I was interested in collaborating on a piece of music involving the recordings and the idea of triggering them from an amplified table.

In 2013 Ellen and I approached Erin Brophey of the SSO Chamber Players and Alex Rogalski at PAVED Arts about whether this might be a suitable project for one of the CORE series concerts. Erin & Alex were both excited about the possibilities of Ellen and I working together and so we began the work.

The main source material is the recordings of Stein’s poems Book. Chair. and Table. While listening to them I noticed immediately that not only did Rob and I speak in very different ranges, but in very different rhythms. With the help of some fancy computer programming (thanks to my son, Jarrod, for help with that), I was able to come up with a fairly accurate pitch and rhythm transcription of the recordings and these became the source for melody and ostinati (repeating phrases). Erin had expressed interest in the piece having some stage directions and I had always been impressed by Richard Carnegie’s speaking while playing bass so integrated these things into the piece.

I have always been fascinated by rhythm and process and the entire piece explores both.

In the beginning of Book. the pitches and rhythms of the phrases are slowed down significantly and become quite melodic. All the players speak and then play their phrases as ostinati and the movement ends with jarring sparse rhythms in the bass and oboe with the voice singing melodically above. During the music, Ellen performs on her glass amplified table, writing, fanning pages, and triggering the recordings.

In Chair. Ellen and I perform on a metal folding chair. The seat of the chair becomes my microphone and my part is quite melodic. Ellen is in charge of effects and the recordings triggered from the chair. While Ellen and I perform on the chair one side of the room, Erin and Richard play a game of ostinato cards that are shuffled at the beginning of the movement. These cards have notated phrases from the text recordings that are played in tandem with each other, shifting when either player decides to choose a new card.

In Table. we begin by all using the glass table as a percussion instrument and speak the entirety of Stein’s poem (the shortest poem of the three). One by one, we go back to our own music stands and repeat our spoken phrases as music. Ellen’s part involves glasses struck and bowed and playing with all six recordings of the poems while we speak and play. In the middle there is a chorale-like section created from our ostinati played very slowly.

There are small moments where the meaning of the text and what is happening in the music become apparent, either through the music, Ellen’s actions on the table, or on the screen which projects images of Ellen’s work on the table.