Poker’s Despondent Rapture

Poker’s Despondent Rapture (2011) (2′)
May 9, 2011

Chaz Lee, baritone; Noah Fields, viola; Jacob Walls, trumpet

I’m interested in how musicians create and sustain drama. For this trio of odds and ends I lifted some text from Charles Dickens’s manuscripts. The “Sapsea Fragment” pertains to his last, unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Never incorporated into the novel, the fragment represents one of Dickens’s improvisations. A minor character by the name of Mr. Sapsea is leaving a clubroom and encounters a groveling figure who goes by the name of Poker. Dickens ratchets up the drama with each line, leaving Poker to struggle in a “despondent rapture” just trying to communicate something to Mr. Sapsea–but then Dickens realizes he has fallen over the edge, making too much out of nothing and trailing off at the word “Or…” With this piece I wanted to ratchet up a little drama from modest materials–nothing too heavy–and steer just clear of falling over the edge.

Text (excerpts from the Sapsea Fragment)

Pardon me, Mr. Sapsea; you appear warm, Sir.

Your penetration is so acute, your glance into the souls of your fellow men is so penetrating, that if I was hardy enough to deny that my name was Poker, what would it avail me?

Disguise from you is impossible. You know already that I come from somewhere, and am going somewhere else. If I was to deny it, what would it avail me?

Or,

Overimage

Overimage (2009) (4′)

Leo Brown, Josh Rim, violins; Noah Fields, viola; Adam Lee, cello
Senior Recital May 9, 2011



The slow, chorale-like passages of this string quartet are built out of polytonal materials. The violins usually remain consonant between themselves, as do the viola and cello, but these pairs pass in and out of dissonance with each other. I felt that the visual analogue for this aural effect would be the “overimage” that results when you stare at a bright object and then turn to look at another image, or the effect you can get when you sandwich two photographic negatives on top of each other in a darkroom enlarger.

Theoretical Party

Theoretical Party (2009/11) (2′)

for string quartet

May 9, 2011

Leo Brown and Sato Matsui, violins; Noah Fields, viola; Talia Loewen (I) and Alex Lou (II), cello

Here is an early miniature for string quartet.

Counting among several arresting scenes in David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” is one “theoretical party” where the hipsters in attendance can’t bear to be actually dancing. They might be shimmying a little bit, but it’s as if there are these inverted commas hovering around their hips. One of the guests is merely ‘alluding to a cha-cha,’ we learn. This miniature for string quartet begins as if someone told the whole-tone scale (a ‘blankly uniform’ scale that ordinarily refuses to be pinned down) to shut up and dance. And get down it does—in fact, by the end the “party” might just be beginning to shed its scare-quotes.