don't flinch

Programme Note

The title is taken from the poem "Don't Flinch" by Adrienne Rich:

Lichen-green lines of shingle pulsate and waver
when you lift your eyes. It's the glare. Don't flinch
The news you were reading
(who tramples whom) is antique
and on the death pages you've seen already
worms doing their normal work
on the life that was: the chewers chewing
at a sensuality that wrestled doom
an anger steeped in love they can't
even taste. How could this still
shock or sicken you? Friends go missing, mute
nameless.. Toss
the paper. Reach again
for the Iliad. The lines
pulse into sense. Turn up the music
Now do you hear it? can you smell smoke
under the near shingles?

The bottleneck guitar sound was utmost in my mind from the very beginning of working on this piece. I have a very strong and fond memory of watching Ry Cooder play the guitar with a bottleneck on the now defunct UK TV music show "The Old Grey Whistle Test" when I was about three or four years old. The sound of this has remained with me my whole life and is strongly associated with the guitar for me personally.

Other techniques specific to the guitar were also used in this piece: string rattles created by delicately touching a vibrating open string with either the fingernail or the bottleneck; different plucking positions, from near the bridge to on the fingerboard; tremolo with and without a plectrum; glissandi; exaggerated vibrato with and without the bottleneck; various single and double harmonics; and pitch bends.

Viewed historically, this is essentially an instrument-plus-tape piece. The computer is used only to trigger stereo sound files, sometimes at the push of a pedal, other times once the onset of a guitar note is detected. Simplicity was utmost in my mind in choosing to use the computer in this way as I wanted Yvonne and perhaps other guitarists to be able to perform the piece without my presence being necessary.

The piece is definitely out of the ordinary in having what is essentially a conventionally notatable computer part. Most electronic components in music of this kind consist mainly of sounds that could only be made--perhaps especially rhythmically--with computers or other electronic equipment. I was attracted in this piece to the idea of creating an almost acoustic instrumental trio, but having the luxury of continuously modifying, refining, and spectrally shaping two of the voices through digital production techniques.

In addition to software samplers and synthesizers, several other sounds were mixed in: a recording of myself improvising on tenor saxophone; myself reciting Rich's poem; recordings of sheep; and Artaud's "Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu". The latter was used purely for its sonic and not its semantic content.