Alexander Calder's Spinner (1966)
As described in these pages the core concerns of the Eleven Clouds project was Post-Tudor Live Electronics, Conceptual Music and Music as Object. Typically most pieces realized two or all three of these notions in one way or another in a way that directly informed what the piece was. Beyond each of these primary themes there could be numerous subthemes which shaped how the primary concepts was approached or realized. Of the eleven ‘Clouds’ three of them reversed this general form in that a subtheme was the primary driver for the piece and primary concept was somewhat tangential to this in that the expression of the subtheme resulted in an Object and (sometimes) the Conceptual aspect was a component of the interactions with the recipients.
Earle Brown's Calder Piece
One thing that I share with Earle Brown is a love of the American sculptor Alexander Calder and like him I was inspired by his mobiles as a structure for composition. Earle Brown’s Open Forms directly implement the shifting nature of mobiles and of course his Calder Piece couldn’t be more explicit.
Spontaneous decisions in the performance of a work and the possibility of the composed elements being “mobile” have been of primary interest to me for some time; the former to an extreme degree in Folio (1952), and the latter, most explicitly, in Twenty Five Pages (1953). For me, the concept of the elements being mobile was inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, in which, similar to this work, there are basic units subject to innumerable different relationships or forms. the concept of the work being conducted and formed spontaneously in performance was originally inspired by the “action-painting” techniques and works of Jackson Pollock in the late 1940s, in which the immediacy and directness of “contact” with the material is of great importance and produces such an intensity in the working and in the result. the performance conditions of these works are similar to a painter working spontaneously with a given palette. – Earle Brown from his Instruction on conducting Open Forms
The primary element of Calder’s mobiles that Earle Brown utilized in his open form scores is the shifting and unfixed nature of mobiles. Most of the open form pieces are traditionally or partially-traditionally notated piece with a mutable structural element that reflects this “innumerably different relationships of forms”. The Calder Piece itself involves an actual mobile which is performed upon (as can be seen in this charming gallery from a performance of the piece) and engages with other aspects of the mobile such as color, construction, material and so on. The Open Form is in my mind an ideal kind of implementation of one’s influences: it captures a genuine aspect of said influence and yet is not so dominated by it that it is of limited utility. That is to say that Open Forms was something that Earle Brown was able to utilize and develop throughout his career as a composer. In that way it is akin to John Cage’s use of the I-Ching to implement his notions of indeterminacy – a deep well that one could mine endlessly.
Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku) is a complex web of influences, intentions and methodology. At the core though is the haiku and the poets to whom this project paid tribute. For the Eleven Clouds project, where a new piece was created each month, I delved into years worth of unrealized ideas, compositions and concepts. I’d long wanted to do a project where I turned haiku into scores and for this project I finally realized that goal. I created a simple meta-score, that is to say a score for generating scores, that is used in concert with the generated score to create the realization.
1) Select a haiku
2) draw lines for each word whose length is determined by syllable count
3) Perform outdoors or bring the outdoors inside
4) Play an event whose duration is determined by length of the line.
5) Pause for a set amount of time between each “word”
6) Between each line pause for 3-6 times the length of (5)
7) Begin and end with a pause the duration of (6) or 2x(6)
I followed this direction using brushed ink on rice paper. For each individual recording I chose to use the prepared wire-strung harp as the instrument. The concept was that each piece was recorded open air, ideally out of doors, utilizing a single preparation. I chose eleven haiku from among my favorite Japanese and American poets and on a long scroll of rice paper brushed out the graphical element of the scores.
A fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
There was always meant to be Nine Haiku in this release but I recorded eleven for good measure. For the object that was the result of this process was to be unique; nine individual objects for each of the 9 haiku. For the construction of each object, I then copied the score onto rice paper which I hand stitched into an envelope utilizing a book binding stitching I had learned in elementary school. The music was burnt onto square “business card” CD-R’s which were painted white which fit into these envelopes. The final package was tied off with a red ribbon. The original description of the project:
Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku), the October entry in the Eleven Clouds project, are nine (9) individually handcrafted artifacts each one containing a singular piece of music. The culmination of several months of effort that began with a process that turns a haiku into a performable score, the selection of nine haiku (plus two), the creation of each score using brush and ink on rice paper, the recording of the score over a month (specific weather conditions were required), the editing and selection from among the takes of the most representative of each score, the development of the envelopes from rice paper which necessitated that they be bound by hand, the re-painting of the score onto the packaging, the creation of the labels, the preparing and burning of the cd-rs and finally the tying of the ribbon. Each one of this bespoke edition are unique from the score, to the music, to the packaging and each reflects this individuality. The music is a record of the artists explorations of the prepared wire strung with each recording utilizing a single technique, preparation or gesture. The score calls for the pieces to be performed out of doors (or the outdoors brought indoors) which makes for a varied accompaniment that is of course different session to session.
This world of dew,
is but a world of dew,
— Kobayashi Issa
As with all of the other Eleven Clouds releases the way the release was to be acquired varied. As I’ve explained in previous posts on this project this was part of the exploration of Music as Object and as well as often exploring various conceptual notions. When the conceptual was considered in this aspect of the project it was almost always to make the recipient a collaborator in the process. This was always to a greater or lesser extent and in this case while it was not a major factor (as compared to say 100 Black Kites or aleph) it was certain an important aspect. Again to quote the original press release:
Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku) is released in an addition of nine (9), each one a unique recording, in handmade packaging featuring the score performed within. In acknowledging the handcrafted aspect of this project these releases will be offered in trade for an item of your own making. Said item could be anything of your own creation that you are willing to mail out in trade: a handwritten poem, short story, a sketch, a piece of music, a fifty-ton cor-ten steel sculpture, a score of your own devising, a DVD, a 17 foot hand knitted scarf, a watercolor, or anything else that you have made yourself. Simply send electronic mail to the address below before November 12th stating your desire to trade for one of these and if one of the first nine to respond, you will be contacted with mailing information. All copies will be mailed out Saturday, November 13th; copies not claimed in trade will be mailed out randomly to previous Eleven Cloud recipients.
Five people engaged in this process sending me such objects as CD-Rs of their own music to little water color paintings. Three more were sent out randomly to those who had previously been sent releases. One release was kept as part of the archive which itself was considered the twelfth and final “release” in the project, titled aleph (there is more to aleph which perhaps I’ll write about at another time). There was at this point in this project a very small amount of people interested, but this group was pretty engaged with the project. As I’ve written elsewhere the degree of engagement in the project was somewhat discouraging, but (as also previously mentioned) I do tend to blame my own inadequacies in various aspects for this.
Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
While I kept extensive notes throughout the project of recipients, communication, objects traded and so, by this point in the project other information was not being so rigorously maintained. For instance the oft cited essay No Ideas But In Things documented each release through August (47° 32′ 25.80″ N / 121° 54′ 32.0″ W) at which time I ceased writing it. Thus I do not have my specific motivations, thoughts, feelings and notions on record. Nor did I keep (at least that I can find now) a comprehensive list of the haiku that correspond to each of the scores. I have to admit I find that rather unfathomable and I do have vague memories of writing them down to use for reference to create the graphical elements. These pages were never completely digitized (I have a document with a couple of them) and has been lost in the course of several moves. I do recall that the poems were by Issa, Bash?, Sant?ka, Snyder, Kerouac and Whalen but I can’t say with any confidence which poem goes to which score (beyond No. 2).
Beyond the lack of keeping more rigorous notes I also did not end up really exploring the secondary more ‘conceptual’ aspect of 9 Haiku which was that each individual recording could be thought of as a ‘leaf’ in a Calder Mobile. The idea here is that one can take each piece and play it in concert, starting each one independently, repeating each one as often or as infrequently as required and so on. The structure for this was only ever mentally sketched out and due to my lack of writing on this entry it is actually hard to say what I really intended at the time for this aspect. The individual pieces could all be played live as described, or the files could be arranged in a DAW, or one could take the individual rice paper scores and make them into a physical mobile and perform them as it lazily moves around. This last notion is definitely something I’ve long had in mind and this piece was certainly part of that. The recordings released as part of this project, as their covers are the score, could certainly be tied onto a framework with their red ribbons and created into such a mobile. The bit of weight that is the CD-R in each one would help steady against light breezes. The far flung nature of the recipients who resided in Scotland, Maine, New Zealand, California, Spain, Texas, Australia and Illinois makes assembling such a mobile seem very unlikely but to me just add to the notion.
Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
I do hope that someday such a mobile will be constructed. But until then sharing files digitally is easy and as each portion becomes available then one mobile becomes more filled out. Not monitoring online sharing sites I have no idea how much of it appeared online but now that I’m putting each of the releases out there myself and have described these intentions these forms can be experimented with. The two additional recordings I made, Haiku No’s. 10 and 11 are also part of the archive being release allowing for one to create 9 Haiku from these eleven sources (though only 9 should be used in any one realization). Archives in lossless formats containing these 11 recordings, plus supplementary documents and images can be found here:
Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku)