Last modified 18 July 2015

On the Balance of Things (1996-98)
(Solo Oboe, Chamber ensemble,
Stereophonic computer processed sound,
Dance component (optional])

by Roger Reynolds

Text: fragments from four poems by Elizabeth Bishop
Recorded voice: Lucinda Childs)

              I. A Summer's Day
              II. Questions of Travel
              III. Anaphora
              IV. The Monument

Lucinda Childs and I first came into contact during the years of the avant-garde ONCE Festivals, which I co-founded with Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma in the early 60’s. Now, in a “virtual collaboration” centered on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, I had the opportunity to consider the relations between sound and dance. I particularly enjoy what could be thought of as the process of “redefining one’s center” that must accompany any significant collaboration. Writing music intended for use by an artist such as Lucinda provoked admonitions to myself of the following sort:

            The sounds must leave space for the eye, and the body’s need to
            empathize with motion. The music should not coerce dancer or observer.

            Repeating patterns orient one in time and will underlie everything. Yet they
            should avoid the obviousness of clockwork.

            Each iterating sound (from the computer or a live musician) has its domain:
            “here” (inside), it remains sonically identical while its position changes;
            “there” (outside), its identity can no longer be maintained.

            For Elizabeth Bishop, traveling was essential – being here or there. In
            On the Balance of Things, the computer processed sounds are positioned
            along paths, the sounds have their own choreography.

            Normally, I use 4 to 8 independent channels to distribute musical events
            around the audience for an inclusive experience. Here, a precisely focused
            stereo field is recentered between 5 speakers for each of the four movements.

            This is “open” music, which invites other dimensions, other considerations.
            The solo oboe is, metaphorically, the poet’s voice: overseeing, commenting.

The composer and choreographer commission fees for this collaboration were made possible by a grant from Meet The Composer’s Composer/Choreographer Project, a national program funded by the Ford Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Solo oboe, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet, percussion, violin, cello, and stereophonic computer processed sound. Musical assistant – Tim Labor. Recorded voice – Lucinda Childs. On the Balance of Things was premiered in its dance version on 16 January 1998 at the Cité de la musique in Paris by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Lucinda Childs, dancer/choreographer, László Hadady, oboe, Anne Manson, conductor.

– Roger Reynolds