Chance Encounter Blog

headed for the whitney

it's making me nostalgic to reread all of these posts from that heady 14 months of eavesdropping travel! now that we are headed for the 'chance encounter' performance this coming feb 13 at the whitney museum, i'm hoping some of you will check out the process - try clicking on some of my favorite posts, to the right, or just spelunk around in here - it was quite a process. meanwhile, hope to see some of you at the whitney - performance times are 6:50 and 8:05pm. whitney is at 75th and madison in nyc. 

here are a few pix from the premiere in seward park, for old times' sake. ah the september sun!


overheard at 'chance encounter'

the weather cleared for our two performances on friday, although it rained that morning and then began again shortly after we finished our last notes - and then a big rainbow came up over seward park!

the past week was an intensive one, with rehearsals - first in the brooklyn lyceum, where we were able to take over the whole building and move the two groups of musicians around so we could approximate the experience of playing outside, a half a block or so away from each other - and then our dress rehearsal on site in seward park on thursday, which was actually like a first performance of sorts, of course, because there were people there watching and listening. a couple of mounted policemen came by - one of them came to the show the next day and told me that the music calmed his horse down.

what an amazing experience to hear the piece finally, nestled in the city soundscape, which is its native home.

there will be photographs and stories here as i receive them - but there are already these wonderful overheard fragments, faithfully reported to me by friends who shared the experience at seward park with us on friday:

"why are they all leaving?"

"Where'd the musicians go? I went to look for them and couldn't find them anywhere. I even looked in the trees."

and this lovely testimony from another friend who was there:
"With the kids crying and the police cars you stop focusing only on the performance and took in your surroundings as a whole including the performance. very very cool. and the creepy yellow light of sun setting wow."

thanks everyone who came for helping usher this piece into its new public life! more to come......

first rehearsal

over the weekend we had the first rehearsal of 'chance encounter' - i was so relieved to hear people coming in just where they should have, which means that the complex cueing in the piece is adequately represented in the parts. this was one of the big challenges of scoring the piece: cueing the parts.

now we have a week before reconvening in rehearsal again, during which time the players and susan can continue their own work with a clearer picture in their heads of how it will all eventually sound & feel. it was quite interesting to discover that, as i suspected would be the case, there were sections that were harder to play with everyone together in one room than they will be with the two groups of musicians much further apart. each rehearsal now we will add in a new element - spatial distance, movement, outdoor run-through. this means a couple of rehearsals with walkie-talkies!

what's the music like?

ok, enough of you have asked me this, and of course it is always hard to step outside of it when one has been living inside of it for so long. but here are a few thoughts, for those of you who are asking me this question, in your minds (or in real life!):

composing a piece for soprano and 12 instruments to be performed outside in fresh air, using two groups of instruments at a fair distance from one another without amplification, has been a wonderful challenge. although it presented some new problems, and required a more rigorous level of sonic imagination than i've ever exercised, it does follow naturally from others of my recent pieces, which use spatial aspects and/or different aleatoric textures. moving music outside from a Concert Hall adds two new elements: listeners can move around as they choose in the space between the two groups of musicians, so they can design their own listening experiences to some degree; and players in the two different groups cannot always hear each other. this second element has been compositionally very rewarding, because i am able to create textures that would be very difficult to play if the players COULD hear each other better. the performance of the piece expects, and may even be dependent on, a very limited line of communication, in the acoustic outdoor world. only certain frequencies above certain volumes can be heard across the courtyard (thank you to colin, eric, anthony and lance! - four of the players who helped me figure this out...) - these narrow parameters determined the complex system of cueing in the piece. listeners in the park will be able to hear as much of each group as they decide to hear, and balance and blend to their whims/curiosity/taste. clarity and bold lines are features of the harmonic, melodic and gestural language of the piece because it must participate in the bold landscape of urban sound. but as such these qualities do still remain in my own language - these challenges simply encouraged me to find new articulations of harmony, melody and gesture that will, i'm sure, prove to have diversified my own compositional activity into the future.

reverse cyrano

it's funny - i just relocated up to cambridge, where i will be spending my schoolyear as a radcliffe fellow. so now i have an apartment right near harvard square. but of course i am putting in long hours proofreading the parts for 'chance encounter' now, since our first rehearsal is in just over a week. it's a strange way to get to know the new neighborhood, because my apartment is on the first floor, with windows opening right out onto the courtyard, where people are moving in for the schoolyear. there's even a bench right outside my window, where people have been sitting having conversations about various things all day. because i have my shutters closed (otherwise people could see right into my apartment), nobody is aware that i can hear everything they say. suddenly i realized, i suppose because of my strange, almost irrepressible urge to suggest things to say to whomever is standing closest to my window (in a loud stage whisper, for example), that this surreptitious eavesdropping habit i have developed has an odd transposition in the figure of cyrano de bergerac. what is the relationship between saying things without one knowing i am saying them, and hearing things without one knowing i am hearing them?

road map

a series of meetings "in" (at?) (on?) the performance space the last week or so. susan and i decided exactly where each player will enter and leave seward park during the performance of 'chance encounter,' and which ones will emerge from taxis, which from the east side diner across the street, etc. then there was the meeting with the archivists - both photo and video - who spent much of their energies trying to find stake-outs either within the library or around the park from which they could capture the changing spatial landscape of the piece. now i am deep in parts preparation, making sure that each player's individual part gives only the information and instructions that she/he needs - no more no less. the entire spectacle will unfold somewhat like a rube goldberg design, or one of those huge domino concoctions i used to see on 'sesame street.' each instrumentalist, then, is like one domino at any given moment. their part must simply tell them "when domino behind you falls and hits you, fall down." of course, the process of creating and proofreading such parts makes my brain hurt, but in a good way...

and saul bellow

...who provided an interesting foil or at least a contrast to durrell:

"Jet engines would tear me from the ground at two thousand miles per hour but where was I going, and what for? The reasons for this terrific speed remained unclear."

"By means of music a man affirmed that the logically unanswerable was, in a different form, answerable. Sounds without determinate meaning became more and more pertinent, the greater the music."

this guy is the master of the pithy phrase. little gems like these by bellow sharpened my ear, helped me catch some of the most miniature overheard items:

"Certain flowers persist."

"I avenged myself by making progress."

and one of my favorite quotes ever:

"Naturally he died a Failure. What else can result from the capitalization of such nouns?"

epigraphs from lawrence durrell

switching gears now from composition to production, setting up rehearsal schedules, tackling such lofty questions as 'what kind of music stands are best to use outdoors?' and 'where will the players leave their cases?'

also enjoying archiving the drafts and sketches, and remembering the powerful influence i felt from various writers as we first began this project a year ago. here are some quotes i underlined in lawrence durrell's alexandria quartet, which i was reading when i starting writing 'chance encounter.' an additional excerpt is on the chance page, but there are so many others! his spirit - a tenderness for humanity that found its particular poetry in public, urban life; his radical relativism (a quality that i hope i might be accused of sharing), the pace and scope of his powers of observation - these things were so inspiring to me. i realize now that his spirit permeates the whole piece. here he is:

"a city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants."

"...all ideas seem equally good to me; the fact of their existence proves that someone is creating. does it matter whether they are objectively right or wrong? they could never remain so for long."

"man is only an extension of the spirit of place."

"does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?"

"our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time - not by our personalities as we like to think. thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed."

note from underground

wow that was a whole month! i was, in fact, in compositional lockdown, finishing the score to 'chance encounter.' a month ago i was working around 12 hours a day, taking a break early on to run a couple of miles. three weeks ago i was working 14 hours a day but still cooking food at home. two weeks ago i was working 16-17 hours a day, ordering indian food, not answering the phone, never leaving the apartment. my friend ellen saved me from myself for four days at the very end, hosting me in her beautiful pennsylvania home replete with food grown in the garden, and kindnesses of every sort from both her and her lovely husband nick. they made me feel totally comfortable taking over their living room and working all day all day all day. but there i could take a break and have nature! human company! beautiful food! thank you guys!!

so - the score is 75 pages long, a half-hour total, with four topical sections and instrumental solos in between. shall i share some of it here? let's start with the words. at certain points in the score things have been left open so newly-found text can be sung, but here are the ones that are etched in laser-ink. i'll post again soon - after a few forays into the real world, re-acquainting myself with the gym and the grocery store :)

CHANCE ENCOUNTER TEXTS (All overheard in transient public spaces)

Topos Nostalgia

They never plant trees on this street, and if they do they’re dead within a week.
I used to live on this street, but everything is gone.

Do you ever go to your old apartment?
Where are all the things that I remember?
Remember? It was snowing horribly, and she was holding the dog?
Your old neighborhood, right? You always go back.

I used to live on this street.
We used to have a house there, but my father lost his job.
I never go there now.

There were rowers on the river, and we walked.
What kind of place are you looking for?
Do you have friends here from home?
Remember these?
Remember them?


No, no, no – you just can’t get there at this time of day.
You’ve missed the last train.
I just can’t wait any longer; I’m starving to death.
It’s not my problem.
How come we’re not moving?

Like I said, I try not to complain.

They used to give you a paper bag with a sandwich and an apple, and that was the beginning of the end.
If we were in India right now, we’d be sinking.
Do you solve everything by crying?
That would be worse than you not caring.

Always on the weekends the trains are screwed up.
I’m always on the wrong side.
It’s not my fault.
I missed the announcement.
Oh no!

People don’t know what we went through. People today just don’t understand.


You don’t know me.
I’ve never been here before.
I might be doing scientific things.
I was asleep when we took off.

I won’t be staying long.
I’m about to go back underground.
It doesn’t matter.

I have done nothing. Nothing has happened, nothing will happen.
As much as things change, they really don’t.

Are you by yourself?
You’re sitting there looking at people like you cannot understand.
Where you want to get to has to be more desirable than where you are.

What do I keep on saying? What do I keep on saying?
I have done nothing. Nothing has happened, nothing will happen.
You don’t know me.

Aimlessness Song

Where are we?
Is this the right way?
Where’s the guy with the directions?

This is East. You want to go West.
Maybe we should all relocate.

Do you know how many blocks it is from here?
Ten blocks seems like a journey to me now.
You’ve missed the last train.
I think I should take a day off.
I already waited in this line.
I hope they know what they’re doing.

It’s on my desk, waiting to be signed.
Where are we?
Now we’re gonna miss the movie.
Maybe they missed their connection.
So then I was back in line and now I’ve been rerouted.
Do you need an appointment or can you just walk in?

I thought of five hundred ways not to make this trip.
We both headed for the same guy.
He thought we were talking German.
We gotta move around a lot. That’s how it is in the resistance.

We need to know where the party is.
No one had any idea what I was talking about.
I don’t remember where this conversation was going.
I don’t do anything to it – it just comes out like this.

I’m trying to catch my breath.
I hope they know what they’re doing.

I found a place where we can sit together.

what it looks like

hard at work still on the score - trying to make a 'finished' score while leaving room in certain sections for new text that comes in. we'd like there to be a box in the library where people can leave their overheard conversation fragments, so we can add new things up to the last minute. at the moment i'm working on the aimlessness song, devising an aleatoric section in which susan can construct new aimless melodies on the spot, incorporating new aimless comments.

i did emerge into the world last week for an afternoon of photos. these give an idea of what the piece will look like. you guys are certainly getting in the spirit. colin jacobsen on violin, eric jacobsen on cello, anthony mcgill on clarinet, lance suzuki on flute and, of course, the one-and-only susan narucki, intrepid soprano. we had a great time considering how various sections of the piece would happen in the space, and catching it on film. here are some photos - now it's back to work for me...






a week above ground

i've been in lock-down lately, finishing composing the music for 'nostalgia' and 'nothing' (which is what i am calling the 'existential commonplaces' song. but this week i did my monthly jaunt up to boston, and between various subway rides at home in nyc -


being out and about in cambridge (this gourmet deli was using their storefront to broadcast the red sox game in harvard square) -


...and the constant stream of excellent contributions from you guys, here are some tantalizing new additions:

I know a three-legged dog and this dog is as happy as any four-legged.
They said they have 20 minutes to get there. I wonder where they're going.
I'm shocked I'm talking to you.
He calls me, he calls you, he calls ten other people.
What are you listening to him for?
Greed is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.
I was shocked. The whole thing fell into my mouth!
I guess they realized that nobody knows anything about religion, not even their own religion.
I don't even need a mattress.

(and a couple from the toddler set):
Get back to where you are!
Nature works!

thank you to some new deputy listeners: ralph, david s, deirdre, jim r. - and the continuing attentive ears of gordon and colin.

stealth collaboration

i'm staying on schedule, wranging 'topos nostalgia' into legible score form, one tedious measure at a time. and while i sit here at home working, you guys are texting and emailing me new stuff all the time - it's pretty awesome.

also been checking out how much this kind of thing is in the air - my friend pea out in san diego is making sound art out of found audio, in his project called lucas & friends. and of course there is found magazine, and so many other 'overheard in...' columns cropping up in university newspapers all over the country.

here's the superb new batch from you:

Said he lives in Jersey. Yeah, said he lives five minutes -- 10 minutes -- away from the office.
You walk in really hard these days.
How was your commute?
What the hell is metaphysics?
Do they have gogo men tonight?

... And I told him, you the onliest one.

thank you nick, a-c (fellow blogger extraordinaire), lance (another one of the musicians who will be playing in the piece on sept 28), and christopher!

union square, and nostalgia

i sat and did the crossword at 7pm in union square park yesterday among the lazy sunday crowd:

I think it's just the kind of people you meet here.
Every time I speak I hear myself talk a second later.

meanwhile, i've decided to put myself on a relatively strict schedule for the next 8 weeks: i need to bring one song to completion per week. most of them are already pretty far along. 'completion,' however, needs to allow for the continuing addition of new found text. since i am becoming more of a homebody now in order to compose, i probably won't be out collecting too much. but i know some of you will.

this week i will be wrapping up nostalgia. since i worked on it last, these other things that might be good to work in have come my way:

You shoulda been here yesterday.
When we go further away, everything looks smaller, right?
What happened to all of my stuff?
There were rowers on the river, and we walked.

i love this last one (thank you gordon! delivered by text message...). so - *especially* if you hear something nostalgic this week, send it my way.

new ears in portland

back in nyc now, but i know i have some deputy listeners in portland still. met a painter named ginger whose husband is a tattoo artist there. ginger - have you heard anything tantalizing since we spoke?

things are ramping up now, as i gather together these found utterances and organize them into my pet categories. at the moment i am focusing on these five, so if you hear something particularly relevant to these topics, send them my way!

Existential Profundity (often unintentional...)

thanks all - i'm working them in as they come in!


i'm at an internet cafe here in portland maine, where it has been easy to insinuate myself attentively among the locals. the 'season' hasn't quite started here, and the whole town is in eager anticipation of vacationing crowds. most of these were collected at a local downscale lobster-roll joint where the restrooms are marked 'mermaids' and 'seahorses.' awww....

Everything is so computerized today.
That's a very steep hill - do you want me to hold your hand?
I won't play that anymore, because everything got really dark and bad.
Obviously not a regular. A regular would never do that.
It's all on my desk now, waiting to be signed.
How much do you get for them off the boat?
We're getting a whole truck from Canada.
He had a christening party for his boat.
You shoulda been here yesterday - we fell into a theological discussion.

spring arrives in central park

entirely by accident i discovered today how recreationally challenged i am. my crosstown bus was interrupted because of a greek day parade, and so i walked across central park and discovered a whole world of human interaction - it was the first spring-weather sunday in new york! how could i have been ignorant of such a compelling human event? i was not armed with my digital camera so i was only able to capture the thrilling throngs via my cell phone camera (yet another device i wasn't even aware i had!). my friend mick practically disowned me after he taught me to use bluetooth to load these onto my computer - i was so amazed and freaked out that my humble techno-belongings were actually communicating with one another, i almost went through the roof.

but i digress. it was a field day (literally) - a feast! for the eyes and ears. and for the curious-about-human-nature: couples on first dates, wearing inappropriate shoes for a picnic! couples with young kids trying to hide their squabbles and irritations, even from themselves, to convince themselves they were having a good time in the sun. grandpas reading the kite instructions while impatient kids whined. kids trying to play soccer with other kids who were just a little bit too young to play by the rules. groups of teenage girls vaguely competing with each other in some ill-defined psychological arenas. it's spring!




If you wanna know where all the frisbees are, they're in our apartment.
Are those people sitting around up there?
I usually head that way.
I wasn't sure what he would do.
I don't understand - where's The Lawn?
Vienna I can do when I'm 85. Seriously.
At 11 you might be more aware.
He hit me in the neck though.
NO - no Star Wars.
It's not in the shade though.
They found out they were first cousins.

this last one qualifies as the second-ever candidate for colin's freudian category.

taipei via anchorage

just back from what was certainly one of the most interesting (and exhausting!) eavesdropping-travel adventures thus far. from JFK airport to anchorage, where one is able to get a reindeer dog even at 3am:


...and on to taipei, where i did the bulk of my eavesdropping on the beautiful subway:



...and on the observation deck of the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101, from which i was able to gaze rather unsteadily down at the clouds:



some of these betray an english-as-second-language character, but i was amazed to discover that even some taiwanese children playing together were using english, even though it sounded like a second language to them too. from anchorage, taiwan, and all points in between:

Sleep, a little shopping, there's not much to do.
I met him in law school. I hated him.
Breakfast? This is supposed to be dinner!
Where are you attempting to go?
I never developed that area.
I have no idea if he eat the cheesecake or not.
Only two people run. Only one people catch.
That's too bad - I really mean it. He will make you miserable.

on trains and planes

it's great when i can find a seat on the train or plane that is directly in front of a child and parent. train to boston earlier this week, plane back.

I'll color his tummy, how about that?
When we go further away, everything looks smaller, right?
I'll let you come over here when there's something to see.

this week, btw, we had a big 'stakeholders meeting' at the seward park library to begin planning our various production plans for the sept 28 performance of 'chance encounter.' and in the course of other projects i have lined up some more of the musicians - lance, anthony, colin, eric: it's great to be able to put your faces on this piece! now, as is always the case, the music i write will start being more personalized.

in a couple of hours i will get on a plane for taiwan, for a whirlwind five-day trip (i'm singing two concerts there with the philip glass ensemble). i will be listening - i'm especially curious about our layover in anchorage, alaska! let's hope i am awake enough to listen to what's around me. in any case, i probably won't be able to report back here until i get back. hold the fort -

in soho

standing outside on the sidewalk in soho, waiting for a friend to bring keys to us so we could get into the building for a rehearsal - as the performance plans congeal and the performance date approaches, i am often actually in situations like these (prime eavesdropping situations!) with people who are actually involved in and invested in the piece. it's fun to combine general collaborative data-collection with actual anticipation of the final experience of performing the piece together. a new way to bring more people into the creative process. truth be told: i always assumed i was too social a person to be a composer. i think this project has given me a way to feel more company along the way.

anyway, we heard these two little poetic tidbits while we camped out on lafayette and houston:

I'm so petrified of clowns.
There's no one my age here.