Thanks to Hartford percussionist/impresario Bill Solomon, I have received a commission from the Hartford New Music Festival to create a large embroidered graphic score for an ensemble of 8 improvisers.
As you may be aware, over the last few years I have composed a handful of graphic pieces that are embroidered on fabric. The first one, "In Stitches" (partially pictured above as cover art) was the result of my wanting to do some freehand embroidery -- for reason having nothing to do with music -- and finding myself unable to access any specific visual ideas. When I began to think of sounds instead, I came up with something I liked. Eventually, Carl and I decided to perform it as a duo, and it has since become a staple piece of repertoire for Broadcloth (a trio featuring Nathan Bontrager, cello; Adam Matlock, accordion; and myself). Last year I created another piece, a duo for two singers which I preimiered with Kyoko Kitamura, for which I knitted the background onto which I embroidered graphics with yarn. I recently completed "Broadcloth, Book I", and an embroidered trio piece in the form of a flour-sack cloth book, which includes some traditional notation in cross-stitch.
While the provenance of this idea didn't come from any sort of bright idea (and certainly not from the desire to "become" a composer) I find that, as an improviser who enjoys playing from graphic notation, the sounds I make are guided not only by the overall shapes in front of me, but by textures and minute variations in line as well. Therefore I think that embroidery and textiles are a good way to add another dimension to improvisation by more deeply engaging the senses of the performers.
When Broadcloth premiered an excerpt of the unfinished "Book I" last year, Anthony Braxton was in attendance. It is typical for him to suggest to young musicians that we not hesitate to apply our current ideas to a larger scale. In this case, the suggestion was not just to write for larger forces, but to embroider much larger pieces. When Bill approached me about a commission for the Hartford New Music Festival, I saw it as a great opportunity to try embroidering a large piece.
The piece will be 8 feet long and 2 feet wide, and will be embroidered on a piece of sliver burlap stretched over an artist's canvas frame. The graphics themselves will be in the form of a flowchart, allowing the musicians to move through choose paths between cells of information. The lineup of musicians is as follows: Nathan Bontrager, cello; Ben Klein, tuba; Adam Matlock, accordion; Anne Rhodes, voice; Bill Solomon, percussion; Carl Testa, bass; Maura Valenti, harp; Libby Van Cleve, oboe. The performance will be on May 5 at Charter Oak in Hartford.