Friday, March 6, 2009

"In ambiguous battle at length"

When I first talked about scoring The Sydney Highrise Variations with the author of the poem, the great Les Murray from New South Wales, Australia, he immediately came to life.

"The poem begings atop a bridge," he said, more or less (I'm reconstructing this from memory). "I always heard the whistling of the wind, atop that bridge. The whole poem corresponds to sounds, really."

I said when we recorded him reading the poem, we should record him making these sounds. He said he would - and, in time, he did.

When I met Les' biographer and preeminent critic, Peter F. Alexander of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, he was amazed by this news. He said he had never heard of Les consenting to do anything of the sort, ever before.

We get that a lot. Poetry Scores comes in under the radar, with no academic or bureaucratic trappings - just musicians and enthusiasts, attempting to honor poetry in other media. The best poets in the world have agreed to work with us and stretch, a little, their sense of what is possible in collaboration.

Once we had this remarkable recording - the de facto poet laureate of Australia and a future Nobel laureate (as I'm not the first to predict) making mouth music to one of his poems - what to do with it?

I have had this recording for seven years or so. It was in the back of my mind every time I reviewed music for possible use in a poetry score.

Nothing quite clicked, however - until Brett Lars Underwood recruited St. Louis experimental musician Frank Heyer for our project. Amid two discs of Frank's unreleased music, I seized upon a fretless guitar excursion that cried out to be titled "In ambiguous battle at length," a fragment of Les poem.

The more I listened to this piece of music with that title in mind, the more I heard that fretless guitar doing ambiguous battle at length with Les Murray's mouth music.

Adam Long and I put the two together the other night. I love it!

Free mp3

"In ambiguous battle at length"
(Frank Heyer, Les Murray)
Frank Heyer, with Les Murray


Photo by Crane, from his Flickr.

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