Last modified 6 July 2015
...brain blaze...she howled aloud (2000-2003)
by Roger Reynolds
" …brain ablaze…" arises out of the extremity of Cassandra's circumstance (as portrayed in Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis and The Trojan Women, and Aeschylus's Agamemnon). Torn by her Dionysian possession, she slips back and forth between prophetic ecstasy and a more lucid engagement with her real-world circumstances. To address her fragmented and perilous condition, I decided to manifest musically a text distilled from her role in my libretto for the (as yet) unrealized Red Act Project. Portions of …brain ablaze… are used in the full-evening music theater work, ILLUSION (commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the Walt Disney Concert Hall). ILLUSION is a component of the Red Act Project.
The starting-point for this Project was the idea of extreme knowledge – awareness that comes to us without our having sought it. Whereas most of the characters in ancient Greek tragedies view events from a personal, a necessarily singular, point of view, Cassandra has to contend with three perspectives in unpredictable succession: order, process, and variability. She has been cursed by Apollo for refusing his advances, and so has little control over what she knows or how she will act.
Cassandra's multivalence is manifested through contrasted musical materials occupying characteristic pitch registers and moving at different tempi. The listener's impression that Cassandra has the potential for inhabiting different mental or psychological "spaces" is expanded by computer processed and spatialized sound and by the optional use of real-time computer spatialization.
The electroacoustic component of …brain blaze… also uses material associated with the three strands of Cassandra's personality, but whereas the instrumental element varies with each performance, the pre-computed materials remain fixed. Their function is to create a sonic environment for the "live" instrumental sound that draws on aspects of the harmonic worlds created by two complementary rows differentiating the contrasting positions of Agamemnon and Cassandra. This pitch resource was originally utilized in The Red Act Arias, commissioned by the BBC for its Proms Festival in 1997.
– Roger Reynolds