for violin, cello, and bitKlavier
2019 ⤥ 17′
in four movements:
- Keening Machine
Tallboy takes a beautiful song called Baltimore, by Gabriel Kahane, as its starting point. A tallboy can be a number of things, including a piece of furniture, a bomb, a very tall glass of beer, a bicycle, or one of those giant wind socks that car dealers use. It’s also referenced in Baltimore. Take your pick.
Slågedalen is where Salve Håkedal lives; Salve made the Hardanger d’Amore, a new kind of fiddle that I play. It’s a beautiful place, in a remote part of southern Norway, and Salve’s family has lived there for generations. A tall rock face towers over the door to his workshop (which his grandfather built), and in winter it is covered in ice, which slowly melts in the spring. I made this tune, originally on the d’Amore, after returning from a visit to Salve and his wife Inger.
We think of J.S. Bach as an efficient composer—every note is essential, carefully placed as part of a deep architectural plan. And yet… over and over in his music we encounter these self indulgent, repetitive passages of bariolage, where the fiddler (or cellist) wanks away with impressive flying string crossings (think of the E-major Partita for solo violin, or the G-major Prelude for solo cello), or even in his keyboard music we find these extended sequential passages where the pianist just spins out a pattern over and over again for no apparent reason (think of the Presto in the C-minor Prelude of Book I of the Well Tempered Klavier). What’s the point? Of course there are lots of answers, though most usually depend on some circular notion that Bach is, well, great, so, well, naturally these passages are part of some grand plan. For me, however, the point is pretty simple: these passages are just so damn fun to play! After all the hard-earned intricate passage-work that precedes them, it’s just so pleasurable to let the arm do its thing—you get in a kind of zone, as you might with minimalist music. And it’s really quite depressing to imagine Bach’s music without these passages. All that said, Bariolage is a similarly self-indulgent homage to Bach and the bariolage, and I hope it is fun.
I’m imagining a machine that is sad, in mourning after the loss of… something, or someone. It keens, or tries to, in spite of its inner mechanisms which just want to keep doing what they were designed to do. Or perhaps it is a machine whose purpose it is to keen, another in the line of robots that we make to replace us and our jobs—there are professional keeners, after all, so why not?